In 2006, Benedict also forced Reverend Marcial Macielthe founder of a conservative Catholic order called the Legionaries of Christ and one of the church’s most notorious pedophiles, to retire «to a life of prayer and penance.»

But eight years after Benedict shocked the church by suddenly retiring in 2013, he faced accusations that he had known for years that Maciel had been taking advantage of the children.

“No, this is not correct,” Benedict XVI’s personal secretary Georg Gänswein said in a statement to the German newspaper Die Zeit.

While Benedict was never personally accused of sexual abuse, a Vatican report released in 2020 said that both he and John Paul II ignored allegations that the now-ousted Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been seducing seminarians.

«Benedict took steps to discipline some priests, but failed to find a way to punish the bishops,» Gibson said. «He did not dare to do that, the most egregious example of that is Cardinal McCarrick.»

McCarrick pleaded not guilty in 2021 to sexually assaulting a teenager nearly 50 years ago in Massachusetts. He is still awaiting trial and a trial date has not yet been set.

Benedict was also accused in 2022 of mishandling four cases of sexual abuse of priests between 1977 and 1982 when he was Archbishop of Munich in what was then West Germany. The lawyers who wrote the report said Benedict categorically denied any wrongdoing.

“I think Benedict took a number of important steps to address the problem of priest sexual abuse, but the bar was so low that it didn’t make a significant difference,” Gibson said.

Benedict was slow to react, Gibson said, because «he had such a pious and personalistic view of Christianity.»

That approach, he said, has been disastrous for the Catholic Church.

“People were rightfully horrified by the sexual abuse allegations, but they were even more enraged by the cover-ups,” Gibson said. «Allowing those responsible to go unpunished, that was inexcusable for many Catholics.»

The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News on Saturday. In January, when the report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the German diocese of Munich was published, Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, told reporters that Benedict would «examine the text with the necessary care» in the next days. He added that Benedict had expressed his “shock and shame” at “the abuse of minors during the years of his pontificate.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who became famous after his attempts to go after predatory priests were dramatized in the Oscar-winning film «Spotlight,» said Benedict «continued to cover up clergy sexual abuse by saying the right things but without taking substantive measures». .”

«Respectfully, Pope Benedict did very little to alleviate the suffering and loneliness of victims of child sexual abuse,» Garabedian said. «Pope Benedict’s limited action here and there has compounded the pain of clergy sexual abuse victims everywhere.»