Ratzinger's heirs may also inherit right to be sued

Because of a lawsuit against Benedict: Pope's relatives reject inheritance

Joseph Ratzinger's legacy is explosive: because whoever accepts the inheritance must also face a lawsuit for damages before the Traunstein Regional Court. The issue is how to deal with a perpetrator of abuse. One heiress has now renounced the inheritance.

Martina Holzinger holds a letter from the Vatican in her hands. It is addressed to her 88-year-old mother, sent by Archbishop Georg Gänswein. He is the executor of the will of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Martina Holzinger's mother is an heiress of Ratzinger. For she and the late Pope are cousins. According to the letter, her distant relative in the Vatican had not explicitly considered Martina Holzinger's mother. However, "according to the Vatican-Italian succession rules", as it says in Gänswein's letter, which is available to BR and the research centre Correctiv, the next of kin are to be informed that they are possible heirs.

Ratzinger's inheritance: many questions still open

It is unclear how much there is to inherit and how many heirs would then have to share it. In March, Gänswein spoke of five heirs. Martina Holzinger has no idea who they might be. Yet there are important things to discuss. For, the executor further informs, there is a civil suit pending at the Traunstein Regional Court against Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict respectively, which they would also inherit.

So whoever wants the money will then also have to answer to the court in Ratzinger's place. The reason for this is a civil suit filed by a man who claims to have been abused by the priest Peter Hullerman. as a child. The priest moved to Munich in 1980 after being abused in the diocese of Essen. At the time, Joseph Ratzinger was Archbishop of Munich and Freising. The lawsuit is also directed against his successor in this office, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, as well as against the Diocese of Munich and Freising and against Peter H. himself.

Abuse scandal: lawsuit against Ratzinger also inherited

The archdiocese repeatedly used the clergyman in pastoral care, also with children - even after he was convicted of abuse by the Ebersberg district court. That is why the plaintiff is now claiming damages before the Traunstein Regional Court. Martina Holzinger or her mother would be sitting opposite him in court if she accepted the inheritance.

"It's just like in the movies. And I myself work in a school, so children are very close to my heart and therefore I am really interested that such things are clarified and that possible plaintiffs get their rights," says Martina Holzinger.

In the case of a possible judgement: heirs would have to pay

If the plaintiff is proven right, the heirs could also be prosecuted. Martina Holzinger fears that they could end up in the red. "I don't want to worry about how much I'll have to pay on top of that, in inverted commas," says Martina Holzinger. "And to be honest, I'm not interested in this money either. And when I say 'I', I mean my mother and me."

Gänswein left unanswered when asked whether the other heirs had also declined. The Traunstein Regional Court is also not yet able to give any information about who the heirs are, let alone about their decision to accept the inheritance or not. Should they all refuse, "the proceedings against the Pope Emeritus would be over", they say.

Plaintiff's lawyer: Bavaria or Vatican responsible

The plaintiff's lawyer, Andreas Schulz, takes a different view: he claims that the inheritance, together with the lawsuit, would then pass to the state, i.e. the Bavaria or the Vatican. But at the same time, Schulz doubts that all personal heirs will be identified by the time the trial is scheduled to begin on 20 June. The date has already been postponed once because of the unclear inheritance situation.

The plaintiff's side does not want to risk that again: They filed a motion to conduct the proceedings against Ratzinger separately from the other defendants. BR and Correctiv were able to see the letter. Then at least the trial against Wetter, the Archbishopric of Munich and Freising and the priest H. could take place on 20 June, while the question of the other Ratzinger heirs continues to await answers.


Cathcon:  I wonder if the Church can indemnify the relatives against any potential damage settlements.