Former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action against clerics in four cases of alleged sexual abuse in his archdiocese when he was archbishop of Munich, a report found on Thursday.
Benedict has previously denied wrongdoing over the cases.
Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was asked to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019.
The report, commissioned by the archdiocese, said there were at least 497 victims of abuse, mainly young males. Many other cases had probably not been reported, said the lawyers.
It also found fault with the current archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, 68, in two suspected cases. Marx, who is not under any suspicion of having participated in abuse, was due to give a brief statement later on Thursday.
A spokesman for the former pope did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Benedict, now aged 94, has been living in the Vatican since resigning as pontiff in 2013.
In a statement that did not mention the former pope, the Vatican said it would evaluate the full report and examine its details.
“In reiterating a sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors by clergy, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path it has taken to protect the little ones and guarantee them a safe environment,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
The WSW lawyers were tasked with finding out who knew what happened in the archdiocese and any action they took. Attention has focused on Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, who was archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982.
Presenting the report for WSW, lawyer Martin Pusch said Ratzinger had done nothing against the abuse in four cases.
“In a total of four cases, we have come to the conclusion that the then Archbishop Cardinal Ratzinger can be accused of misconduct in cases of sexual abuse,” said Pusch. “He still claims ignorance even if, in our opinion, that is difficult to reconcile with the documentation.”
The lawyers also accused Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008, of misconduct in two suspected cases of abuse. Last year, Pope Francis rejected an offer by him to resign as archbishop over the abuse crisis.
The archdiocese declined to comment immediately but is to give a full response to the report next week.
In 2018, Germany's Catholic Church, which is among the world's wealthiest thanks in part to church tax paid by members, apologized to victims after a report found that clerics had abused around 3,700 victims in the seven decades up to 2014.
Last year, a report into the Archdiocese of Cologne between 1975 and 2018 found 202 abusers and 314 victims, and said Church officials had failed in their duties in some 75 cases.
This article was updated Jan. 20 at 11:20 EST with additional reporting from Reuters.