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CRIME

German former pope Benedict admits giving ‘incorrect’ info to abuse inquiry

Ex-pope Benedict XVI on Monday admitted providing incorrect information to a German inquiry about his presence at a 1980 meeting discussing a paedophile priest, blaming an editing "oversight".

Former Pope Benedict in Munich in 2020.
Former Pope Benedict in Munich in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool | Sven Hoppe

“He is very sorry for this mistake and asks to be excused,” Benedict’s personal secretary Georg Ganswein said in a statement cited by the KNA news agency and republished by Vatican News.

But the statement insisted no decision was made at the meeting about reassigning the priest to pastoral duties.

An independent report last week found that Benedict XVI, who stood down in 2013, knowingly failed to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in the 1980s.

The report by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine how abuse cases were dealt with between 1945 and 2019.

Ex-pope Benedict – whose civilian name is Joseph Ratzinger – was the archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

In one case, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.

Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history and continued to reoffend for many years.

READ ALSO: Probe finds ex-pope Benedict failed to act in German abuse cases

The lawyers said that “to our surprise”, Benedict had denied attending the meeting in 1980 at which the decision was made to admit Hullermann to the diocese, despite being quoted directly in the minutes of the meeting.

The statement from the emeritus pope said: “He would like to make it clear now that, contrary to what was stated at the hearing, he did attend the Ordinariate meeting on January 15, 1980.

“The statement to the contrary was therefore objectively incorrect,” it added, while insisting this was “not done out of bad faith, but was the result of an oversight in the editing of his statement”.

“Objectively correct, however, remains the statement, documented by the files, that in his meeting no decision was made about a pastoral assignment of the priest in question,” it said.

“Rather, only the request to provide him with accommodation during his therapeutic treatment in Munich was granted.”

The statement said further explanations would follow but the 94-year-old pope, who is said to be in shaky health, is still reading the inquiry report.

“At present, he is carefully reading the statements set down there, which fill him with shame and pain about the suffering inflicted on the victims,” it said.

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CRIME

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.

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