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Pope Benedict XVI apologizes for handling of sexual abuse cases but denies wrongdoing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A report on sex abuse in the German Catholic Church has faulted former Pope Benedict XVI's handling of four cases. Now, several weeks later, the 94-year-old has acknowledged that abuses and errors took place when he was Munich's archbishop. But as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, the former pope has denied allegations of wrongdoing.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The former Pope's letter was released by the Vatican, accompanied by a statement from his lawyers and videos of his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, reading the letter in German and Italian.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORG GANSWEIN: (Through interpreter) I've had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.

POGGIOLI: The report, commissioned by the German Catholic Church, had faulted Benedict's handling of four cases in Munich from 1977 to 1982. Benedict's response was a reflection on a long life nearing its end, in which he stressed that in his meetings with abuse survivors, he had always asked for forgiveness for the church. While the former Pope's letter was deeply personal, his lawyer's rebuttal was sharp, claiming the report, quote, "contains no evidence for an allegation of misconduct or conspiracy in any cover-up," end quote, by the former pope.

ROBERT MICKENS: The men in the church with authority still, after all these decades, do not understand that this would not fly.

POGGIOLI: Robert Mickens, English editor of the Catholic daily La Croix, says Benedict's letter sounds defensive.

MICKENS: The letter says, I'm really very sorry for these horrible things that happened, but I had nothing to do with it. And Pope Francis and my lawyers believe me.

POGGIOLI: Christian Weisner of the We Are Church Movement in Germany says German Catholics and bishops are disappointed with Benedict's letter.

CHRISTIAN WEISNER: This letter destroyed his reputation as a person, as a theologian and as head of a church.

POGGIOLI: Especially, Weisner says, because Benedict did not express a word of empathy for the victims. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.