Regensburg, Germany — The Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the elder brother of former Pope Benedict XVI, said in an interview published Sunday that he had no knowledge that young boys in an internationally known German church choir he directed for 30 years had suffered sexual abuse.
“I did not hear anything at all about sexual abuse,” Father Ratzinger, 91, told a Bavarian regional newspaper, Passauer Neue Presse. “I was not aware that any sexual abuse was taking place at that time.”
Reports of physical and sexual abuse in the choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen in Bavaria, first emerged in 2010 as part of a nationwide wave of revelations linking officials of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany to the mistreatment of children. But an internal report by the church identified only 72 cases of abuse in the Regensburg Diocese, most involving severe corporal punishment.
Last week, Ulrich Weber, a lawyer commissioned by the choir to look into accusations of beatings, torture and sexual abuse, presented his initial findings, based on more than 140 interviews, roughly half of them with victims, and an examination of archives. Mr. Weber estimated that from 1953 to 1992, every third student at a school attached to the choir suffered some kind of physical abuse. He said the mistreatment at institutions linked to the Domspatzen included at least 40 cases of sexual violence.
If true, the findings again raise the question of whether Benedict, the pope emeritus, who taught theology in Regensburg from 1969 to 1976, had any knowledge of the abuse taking place in the choir that his brother directed. During his tenure as pope, Benedict called the problem of sexual abuse by clergymen a “sin inside the church,” and met with victims’ groups, but never directly addressed questions of how he handled sexual abuse in his previous posts, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, and as archbishop of Munich in 1980, when a pedophile priest was moved to his diocese for treatment.
In an interview with Passauer Neue Presse in 2010, Father Ratzinger apologized to the students he had slapped before corporal punishment was outlawed in Bavaria in 1980. But he has steadfastly maintained that he was never cognizant of any sexual wrongdoing while he directed the choir, from 1964 to 1994. In the interview published Sunday, he reiterated that position.
According to Mr. Weber, the sexual abuse ranged “from fondling to rapes.” Given the extent and seriousness of the accusations, Mr. Weber told reporters on Friday, he believed that Father Ratzinger must have known it was taking place.
The bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, has declined to comment on Mr. Weber’s findings, saying in a statement that the church wanted to speak with victims and assess the final report, expected to be completed next year, before commenting. Victims have criticized the diocese for failing to take their accusations seriously.
Rocked by the extent of the abuse cases that emerged in 2010, the Catholic Church in Germany and the government established a hotline for victims to report cases of abuse, seek professional help and explore legal options.
Last year, as a result of the allegations, the German Parliament passed a law extending the statute of limitations for cases of sexual abuse to a range of five to 30 years, depending on the severity of the crime. But given that most of the instances of abuse involving the Domspatzen took place before 1992, only a few may still be eligible for prosecution.
This makes the victims’ demands for a thorough accounting of past abuses by the church all the more important. A decision by the church in 2013 to cancel an independent study into the sexual abuse of children by clergy members raised questions about the credibility of its commitment to addressing the problem.
Roland Büchner, the director of the choir, welcomed the latest findings as an important step toward transparency.
“The number of victims named in this interim report horrifies us, and we would like to stress that every one deeply affects and renders us speechless,” Mr. Büchner said. “Consequently, we would like to take this opportunity to again, with deepest shock and shame, express our apologies to the victims in the Domspatzen and its associated institutions.”
Mr. Büchner said an advisory board would be convened in February to discuss how to handle the final report. The board will be composed of a representative of the victims; two mediators; members of the choir foundation; Michael Fuchs, the vicar general; and the bishop.
On Sunday, the voices of choirboys echoed from the vaulted ceilings of the Gothic cathedral in Regensburg for their first Sunday morning service after the Christmas break. Most people attending services declined to talk about the latest revelations.
“I take it as a sign that they are willing to address the problem,” said a woman who would give only her first name, Annette. “In many ways, it is an old story, but it is also something that takes a long time to properly investigate.”