“The service of truth was always in the first place”, for Benedict xvi who “never tried to conceal things that could be painful for the Church to acknowledge” and never “tried to give a false image of the reality of the Church or of what is happening”. Father Federico Lombardi draws from his personal experience as one of the closest collaborators of Joseph Ratzinger, to highlight even further the “sincerity” that animates the letter published on Tuesday, 8 February, by the Pope emeritus on the scourge of clerical paedophilia following the publishing of the Report on Abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
In an interview with Vatican Media, Fr Lombardi described Benedict’s letter as being “the result of a deep, painful time of sincere examination before God”. “I was struck by his sincerity, his intensity and his depth”, said the former Vatican spokesman and President of the Joseph Ratzinger—Benedict xvi Vatican Foundation. The Letter, he noted, reveals Benedict’s current situation as “an elderly person, who knows that he is going towards an encounter with the Lord and therefore towards God’s judgement”.
According to Fr Lombardi, also of great intensity is the fact that Ratzinger “carries out this penitential reflection in the presence of the victims of abuse themselves. He evokes the encounters he has had with the victims and his ever-deepening knowledge of the seriousness of the victims’ suffering and the consequences of this abuse”. At the same time, he “demonstrates, with great sincerity and in a very explicit way, the shame, pain, a sincere request for forgiveness”.
Father Lombardi then addressed the accusations made against Benedict xvi: that he lied about his participation in a meeting held in January 1980, during which a decision was made to welcome into the Bavarian Archdiocese, a priest who was an abuser. The Pope emeritus initially stated that he had not been present at the meeting and later corrected this “error”. As a result, he suffered the accusation “of being a liar, of having knowingly lied about concrete situations. Not only that, but also in the Report as a whole, the accusation arose that he knowingly covered up for abusive persons, and therefore that he had a lack of attention to the suffering of the victims”.
This accusation caused “great suffering” to Ratzinger but also to Fr Lombardi who, as his close collaborator over several years, remembers the desire for truth that always motivated every action and word of the Pope emeritus: “I absolutely believe that one cannot doubt in any way his truthfulness”. “I think it is right that he should vindicate his truthfulness. Because it is a characteristic of his personality and his behaviour throughout his life, which I can also testify to, having lived close to him as a collaborator for several years”.
The word forgiveness emerges strongly from Benedict’s letter, said Father Lombardi, the desire to “ask forgiveness, purify himself and commit himself with all his strength to changing his attitude and being more faithful to the demands of the Gospel”. Benedict’s attitude, Lombardi noted, is a penitential one.
“And this sincere penitential attitude before God”, he concluded, is a great witness for today’s Church.