From the Link: https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2016/08/20/key-papal-adviser-accused-mishandling-abuse-allegation-2006/
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany, a key papal adviser and a leading voice for progressive positions during the recent Synods of Bishops on the family, faces accusations of mishandling an abuse allegation against one of his priests in 2006.
TRIER, Germany – Accusations have been raised in a number of German media that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising failed to remove from office a priest accused in 2006 of sexually abusing a minor.
The alleged abuser, it appears, was allowed to stay on as parish priest for a number of years, even going on overnight excursions with youth.
A spokesperson for Marx has said that the prelate had acted in accordance with relevant guidelines that were in place at the time.
Saarland public broadcaster SR reports that Marx, who was then Bishop of Trier, knew authorities were investigating a parish priest – identified only as “M” – for allegedly sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy.
Citing the victim’s legal counsel as a source, SR reports that “M”, who was then 52, had partially confessed the crime to authorities. However, he appears to have avoided prosecution because the alleged crime fell just outside the statute of limitations.
The Church was duly informed by authorities of this in 2006, but never requested the case files, several media report.
When nonetheless questioned by the diocese, “M” denied the allegations, SR reports, and then-Bishop Marx closed the matter and moved on.
It appears the accused continued to serve as parish priest in the community where the alleged abused took place until 2015.
According to the German news magazine “Focus”, state authorities initiated two further investigations into the priest’s conduct, in 2013 and 2015. Both times, the lines of inquiry stalled and finally were abandoned due to a lack of evidence.
Only as of May 2015, the alleged abuser is no longer allowed to be in contact with minors or to publicly say Mass, Focus reports, as both civil authorities and the Trier diocese are yet again investigating the matter under both legal and canonical auspices.
Marx, who was Bishop of Trier from 2001 to 2007, has not yet spoken about the accusations leveled against him. Spokespersons for both the Diocese of Trier and for Marx have confirmed that the then-Bishop of Trier knew of the case in 2006.
However, the spokesperson for Marx emphasized that he “had acted in accordance with the guidelines of the German Bishops’ Conference”. These guidelines were reformed in 2010, and then again in 2013.
“Such a case would be dealt with differently today; the Church would conduct her own investigation”, the spokesperson said. “The German bishops have acted on the bitter experiences, and introduced new guidelines that apply to all dioceses”.
Marx is also president of the German bishops’ conference, a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on the reform of the Roman Curia, and coordinator of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Catholic Church Funded Statistics Part II
It was encouraging to learn today that German researchers working with catholic officials to produce the latest, supposedly independent, supposedly research based support for Vatican lies about endemic child rape by catholic religious have had enough and pulled the plug on the project.
The German Bishops’ Conference confirmed that it has ended cooperation with the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN) which had been investigating sexual abuse cases committed by employees of the Catholic Church, citing the lack of trust.
“The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, explained on Wednesday morning, saying that constructive cooperation had become impossible.
“Trust is vital for such an extensive project dealing with such a sensitive issue.”
In an interview with public broadcaster “Deutschlandfunk,” Christian Pfeiffer, the head of the KFN institute accused Church officials of hampering his team’s research efforts by continually attempting to intervene in and control the investigation. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper he spoke of censorship.
In 2011, the German Bishops’ Conference had authorized the KFN to launch an investigation into sexual abuse cases. This followed reports of abuse at several Catholic schools across Germany, claiming that children had repeatedly been abused.
The team of experts around Christian Pfeiffer consisted of retired prosecutors and judges and was allowed access to personnel records on Church employees going back more than a decade.
The investigation was to determine how such abuses came about, how the Church had dealt with them in the past, and what conclusions could be drawn to prevent new cases.
This followed a spate of allegations in 2010 of abuse of children by priests and other Church employees and the subsequent criticism of the Church’s slow response.
The Catholic Church officially apologized to the victims in March of 2010, and offered victims 5,000 euros ($6,546) each in compensation. During a visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI – who was the Cardinal of Munich from 1977 to 1982 – met with victims of abuse as a step towards reconciliation.
Only recently German bishops were crowing about a new self study posing as proper research, whose methodology sounded frighteningly similar to the seriously flawed and misleading John Jay study from the US. I searched fruitlessly for additional details about this German study, or even a copy of the research itself, but there was nothing to be found beyond a media release.
Know we know why.
Sticking to the successful Vatican mind games as trialled on the largely unsuspecting US public, parishoners and politicians, German bishops were clearly intending to buy and then exploit another expensive work of deception to smear and undermine victims and those telling the truth about this important issue.
Unfortunately the German researchers the bishops hoped to buy, the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN), were either smarter or have more professional integrity than the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Or perhaps they simply have more humanity.
After all we are talking about prostituting their ability and expertise to protect dangerous, sanctimonious criminals who consider themselves entitled to rape and sexually exploit as many defenceless children as they can get their grubby hands on. At the same time protecting the equally abhorrent criminals who enable and coverup these crimes.
It is entirely possible that bishops misled both the John Jay College and the KFN about their intentions for the work they were commissioning. Catholic bishops find it almost impossible to speak directly or clearly, or to be honest about what they are really up to. They cannot be up front on any topic, far less one as threatening to what is most dear to them – their own careers, and the power, wealth and influence of the institutional church – as the child rape epidemic they can no longer hide.
Avoiding nasty details, sticking to inspiring sounding cliches which are the opposite of reality, impenetrable vagueness, circular reasoning, euphemisms and mental reservation are all so ingrained that most bishops would struggle to communicate clearly if their life depended upon it.
Their stock in trade is saying a lot, while conveying little, and committing to nothing.
Except when blaming others or listing where others have gone wrong and how everything will be so much better if only everyone would blindly obey instructions from the pope and bishops.
It is entirely possible that, when commissioning this work, the bishops claimed they would be completely open and transparent. That they did not intend to hold anything back or hide any details. That they would “co-operate fully”, a favourite claim. And that they were truly interested in finding out the truth and would not try to manipulate or edit the final report to produce a desired result.
If they did claim any of these things, and they have made these claims so often in relation to law enforcement, judicial inquiries, and court proceedings, then, as has happened consistently in all those situations, they lied.
But inevitably, whether misled, naive, or somewhat complicit, at some stage the researchers, both in the US and Germany, would have realised just how little the bishops meant any claims to reveal all details or to want truth, instead of support for their excuses and distractions.
The John Jay College produced not one but two reports based on flawed and incomplete data, which have been consistently misused as representing incidence of abuse. That misrepresentation has been allowed to spread widely, uncorrected, leading the more outrageous apologists, and even bishops, to claim that catholic churches are the safest places around for children. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The second report, based on the same data as the first report, took full flight into cloud cuckoo land. It blamed the Woodstock generation for a sudden flowering of abuse, despite the fact child rape has actually been rampant in the catholic church for two millennia. This report also claimed there is no discernible difference between abuser priests and non abuser priests, despite the significant and deliberate underreporting of known abuse by bishops trying to coverup the problem. There was no difference between abuser and non abuser populations because so many abusers were included in the reportedly non abuser population. The second report also arbitrarily diverged from the official, widely used definition of paedophilia, lowering the age range significantly in order to claim the majority of priests were not in fact paedophiles. And perhaps the most dangerous fiction of all was that the abuse is all in the past, based on a tapering off of reports in recent years. This claim directly contradicts the original report, which noted that only a minority of abuse is reported within a short time frame, and the majority of victims take decades to report, making it impossible to draw reliable conclusions about current abuse rates at this time.
Clearly the German bishops have finally revealed enough of their deception and their dangerously evil intentions that the German researchers have decided they cannot be a party to the report the bishops wish to buy.
It is common practice for research to be commissioned by commercial interests specifically in order to mislead. To give them an advantage against competing messages. Bias, in all its forms, can be used to frame questions that deliver required responses, and data can be carefully selected to exclude information that does not meet the client’s needs. Biased research can usually be easily spotted based on its methodology. But we must assume the bishops went further than just bias.
That they wanted KFN to put the appearance of truth on lies.
Lies that subvert efforts to improve child protection. Lies that keep child rapists out of jail and free to re-offend.
It seems that the researchers at KFN, unlike those at John Jay College, are not prepared to prostitute themselves for the church’s thirty pieces of silver.
Not when children’s safety is at stake.
I sincerely hope Australia’s Royal Commissioners, when appointed, read about this sorry episode.
So they can know what they are up against in the search for the truth of this issue.
Sex Abuse Scandal: Did Archbishop Ratzinger Help Shield Perpetrator from Prosecution?
After long delays, the Catholic Church finally appears to be taking responsibility for sexual abuse cases. But it is an uncomfortable process. The pope even failed to take the problem of child abuse seriously when he was the archbishop of Munich.
Peter H. simply cannot understand why allegations are being made against him now — especially after all these years. “Why me of all people?” the priest asked during a phone conversation with his friend, the mayor of Garching, a town near his own, Bad Tölz, in Bavaria.
Yes, why him of all people? Especially when there are so many priests who have committed sins against children, and so many who have been treated leniently by the church. Back in 1980, even Joseph Ratzinger — then the archbishop of Munich, and now Pope Benedict XVI — had played a role in the decision to handle Peter H.’s pedophiliac infractions internally. No police, no state prosecutor, no trial. Therapy and brotherly love would bring this sinner back to the fold.
Events that linked Ratzinger and Peter H. decades ago are now causing their paths to cross once again. Last week, one of these two men, Peter H., was suspended from the priesthood, while the other, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a pastoral letter on clerical sexual abuse. The pope now wants to clear up these cases and aid the victims.
Is this a long-awaited turning point?
Finally, after much too much hesitation, there is now movement in the church — at the lower level with Peter H. and at the higher level with the pope and the German Bishops’ Conference. For the first time since the sex scandal erupted, church officials have indicated that they intend to tackle the problem seriously. In Bavaria, the Catholic Church now intends to report all such cases immediately to the authorities. “We all have to deal with the consequences of utter evil in the world and in the Church,” says the current archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx. “This boil must be lanced. Everything must come out,” his colleague in Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, adds. And the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, who has been engaged by the Bishops’ Conference to handle abuse cases, openly criticizes the institutions of the Church, admitting that “there have been cover-ups in a wide range of cases.”
Political Reaction May Lead to Official Enquiry
Politicians are also reacting. The German state of Hesse wants to make it mandatory for public and private schools to report all suspected cases of abuse and plans to launch a special investigation into all 33 boarding schools located in the state. Bavaria is calling for preventative therapy to be offered to any teachers or clergymen with pedophilic tendencies. And the German federal government has finally reached a decision on who will attend roundtable talks on the issue and what will be on the agenda. On Wednesday, the government plans to announce the appointment of an independent commissioner in Berlin to investigate the abuse cases across the country.
This collective toughening of attitudes is the result of weeks of mounting pressure. Germany’s dioceses have been flooded with complaints and one of the first church officials entrusted with investigating cases of clerical misconduct has already resigned because he could not handle the work. Benno Grimm, from the diocese of Limburg, which covers territory in the states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate as well as the city of Frankfurt, said that he could no longer cope with the number of allegations and reports and that the accounts of abuse were getting under his skin.
Public prosecutors also have their work cut out for them. Up until now, they have had few opportunities to prosecute because the statute of limitations has usually expired for the alleged crimes. But investigations are currently being conducted into at least 14 clergymen on suspicions of sexual abuse. This figure emerged after a SPIEGEL survey of all 24 public prosecutors in Germany. Nine refused to comment. In addition, 11 secular teachers and tutors are being investigated, including three former educators at the prestigious Odenwald boarding school.
At the same time, many Germans are leaving the Catholic Church, especially in the Catholic stronghold of Bavaria, where the faithful have been shocked by scandals surrounding the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir and the monastery school in Ettal as well as the reportedly lenient treatment of the pedophile priest, Peter H., by the pope’s own former archbishopric in Munich. Officials in the cities of Regensburg and Munich report that, for the first half of March, the number of people leaving the church is nearly double when compared to the same period in February. (Editor’s note: In Germany, church taxes are collected by the government and members of the Catholic and Protestant churches register with the local authorities.)
People are unnerved because, for a long time, no one was able to credibly assure them that everything possible was being done to ensure that youth groups and schools were safe from sexual abuse. And their skepticism is understandable: The case of Peter H. is a prime example of how well the church’s system to protect abusers works.
Young Priest Made ‘Indecent Advances’
As a young chaplain in the diocese of Essen in 1979, H. forced an 11-year-old to engage in oral sex after a camp retreat. He reportedly had the boy drink alcohol before assaulting him. There were at least three more victims in Essen but their parents reportedly decided not to press charges to avoid putting their children through the ordeal. Instead they complained to H.’s immediate superior, the parish priest of St. Andreas. That priest’s handwritten report to the head of church personnel and the vicar general of the diocese of Essen states that H. had made “indecent advances” toward the children during his work in the parish.
Church officials in Essen decided not to press charges and instead arranged for their brother to enter into therapy in Munich. In the letter of transfer, written to the Bavarian diocese that Ratzinger then led, there was a clear admission that the priest had sexually assaulted children in his former parish. Munich was not left in the dark about what kind of problem was on its way to them, the diocese of Essen said last week.
The Diocesan Council, chaired by Archbishop Ratzinger, dealt with the case in Munich on Jan. 15, 1980. According to the minutes of the meeting, “Point 5d” on the agenda saw the council discussing Peter H., who had requested “accommodation and support in a Munich parsonage for a while.” The request also stated that “Chaplain H. will undergo psychological therapeutic treatment.”
Ratzinger Knew Police Hadn’t Been Informed
A policeman’s son, Ratzinger was well aware that no one had notified the police and that everything had been handled by the Church internally. Neither he nor his diocese reported the case to the authorities. Instead, a brief, succinct statement concerning the chaplain’s application was entered into the minutes: “The request is granted.”
Barely two weeks later, H. had been assigned to pastoral duties again. Ratzinger allegedly knew nothing of this. But his office did receive a note from his vicar-general at the time, Gerhard Gruber, concerning the chaplain’s placement in the Catholic parish of St. Johannes Evangelist in Munich. Did Ratzinger overlook the memo? Gruber now says that he alone was responsible.
In the town of Grafing near Munich, H. again sexually abused several pupils. In 1986, a local court in Ebersberg in Bavaria handed out an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 4,000 deutsche mark fine to H. He was also convicted of distributing pornographic materials.
Priest ‘Always Kissed Children on the Mouth’
Church officials then simply transferred the pedophile from Grafing to Garching — but apparently without informing the parish there of his history. Once again, children at his new place of work complained that their priest always kissed them on the mouth — a practice they found disgusting. Mothers complained to the parish council, but nothing happened. In 2008, the first of his victims in Essen came forward: Wilfried Fesselmann, 41, was 11 at the time of the alleged abuse. The priest was transferred again, this time to his current place of residence in the town of Bad Tölz. Once again no warning was issued to the new parish, where the priest was able to conduct church services with the young people of the area. And it was not until last week that H. was finally suspended from priestly service.
And that is precisely the focus of the current discussion. What responsibility do people with knowledge of what has been done bear? And what about the perpetrators’ superiors? How could they enable pedophile priests to continue working in the Church? And what has the current pope done during his career in the Church to combat a sex problem that he is well aware of?
It was not only in Munich, but also later in Rome that Ratzinger missed countless opportunities to vigorously tackle the issue. For over 23 years — until his election as pope — he headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, meaning that he was also responsible for dealing with reports of sexual abuse. From 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger exercised this power from a fortress-like palace in the Vatican, where he passed through heavy iron-studded gates every morning and every evening. Above the gates, the walls are still emblazoned with the coat of arms of the Holy Office, also known as the Inquisition, which held Galileo Galilei under arrest here and sentenced Giordano Bruno to death as a heretic.
For decades, Ratzinger accepted the fact that little attention was paid to the problem of sexual abuse. Instead he focused on reprimanding Latin American church activists who advocated liberation theology, a movement that defines the teachings of Jesus Christ differently, as well as feuding with controversial critics of the Catholic Church such as Eugen Drewermann and Hans Küng. His rare public statements during this period were dedicated to pet topics like “faith and reason.”
A Parallel World of Murky Legality
It wasn’t until 2001, after a sexual abuse scandal had rocked the Catholic Church in the US, that Cardinal Ratzinger took action. He decreed that the local churches now had to report all such suspected cases to his offices of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome — but under strict secrecy.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna currently serves as the church’s Promoter of Justice, making him, in effect, the Vatican’s internal prosecutor. Between 2001 and 2010, he investigated over 3,000 accusations lodged against members of the clergy who had allegedly violated their vows of celibacy.
In dealing with such cases, Church officials operate in a parallel world of murky legality. Clergymen play the roles of judge and prosecutor, files are kept secret and witnesses are questioned, but never informed of the purpose of the interrogation.
In 300 cases, the defendants were found guilty and given the mandatory maximum penalty: dismissal from the clergy. In another 300 cases, the defendants anticipated that they would be thrown out of the church and preempted this by asking to be dismissed. This group includes priests who had been caught with pornographic images of children. And around 1,800 priests only received a relatively mild punishment due to their advanced age: They were banned from performing the sacrament.
No Complaint, No Plaintiff, No Judge
All the while, state prosecutors remained relatively powerless to counter the church’s leniency — mainly because they know nothing about the offenses committed. When there is no plaintiff, there is no judge. As long as church officials do not file official complaints and succeed in persuading the victims’ families not to report offenses to the authorities, then the Catholic Church can continue to act within its own realm, and beyond the reach of secular laws. Up until now, nobody from the outside world has been able to do anything about it.
So far, there are no known cases in which bishops or vicar generals have been prosecuted for protecting pedophile subordinates or because they allowed them to continue to work with young people — as in the case with the priest Peter H.
Nevertheless, as the policies of the official body of the Protestant Church in Germany (the Evangelical Church of Germany, or EKD) clearly demonstrate, it is actually possible to crack down on sexual offenders in the clergy. “As soon as initial suspicions arise,” says EKD spokesman Reinhard Mawick, “they are reported to the police so the state prosecutor can investigate.”
The Evangelical Church of Westphalia, for example, has had a 64-page manual with instructions on how to deal with sexual assault for some time now. These guidelines provide detailed information on how to recognize perpetrators and it also lists possibilities for best supporting victims. The Church has to take “active and clear steps to prevent sexual assault,” it says in the publication.
In response to a request from SPIEGEL, the EKD has checked how many cases of abuse have come to light. Results have come in from nine of the 22 district churches across Germany. Over the past 10 years, there have been exactly 11 cases within those churches — and only one had to do with pedophilia. Any clergymen or deacons involved were removed from the service of the church.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
The World from Berlin: Abuse Investigation Needed ‘Without a Moment’s Delay’
The child-abuse scandal that broke out in Germany in late January has now spread across the country. As shocked German politicians argue over whether to lift the statute of limitations or impose civil penalties, newspaper commentators are unanimous in their call for swift and concerted action.
At first, it seemed like an isolated incident of abuse at one Catholic school in Berlin. But now, in little over a month, it has ballooned into a massive scandal, with reports of molestations and beatings stretching back decades — in all types of private institutions and all over Germany. Shocked by the scope and terrible nature of the scandal, Germans are clamouring to find the appropriate response.
The series of scandals broke out in late January with initial reports about abuse at Canisius College, a university-prep high school run by Jesuit priests in central Berlin. Since then, it has spread to include other Catholic institutions around the country, including boarding schools, a cathedral choir in Regensburg and a Benedictine monastery school in Ettal, as well as private, secular boarding schools, such as the Oldenwaldschule, an elite private school in Hesse.
Heading the calls for a concerted investigation of the matter is German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). She has proposed the appointment of ombudsmen and a round table of representatives of the government, the Church and abuse victims. Such a panel, she says, would be “a good way to clear up the many abuse cases and give the Catholic Church an opportunity to enter into dialogue with the victims about voluntary compensation.” Leading conservatives have also called for the 20-year statute of limitations on cases of child abuse to be abolished, a move the justice minister opposes.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has been especially critical of what she calls a “wall of silence” from the Church. On Monday, she told the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk radio that the Church is hiding behind a 2001 Vatican directive that calls for cases of abuse to first be investigated internally.
But Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the Church’s spokeman for issues related to abuse, said that her comments were “absurd,” according to Reuters. “Our guidelines insist that we involve state prosecutors,” Ackermann told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. On the other hand, Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who is also chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, has accused Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger of bashing the Church and demanded that she apologize for her statements. Zollitsch will travel to the Vatican on Friday to discuss the widening scandal with Catholic Church officials.
In Tuesday’s papers, German commentators weigh the pros and cons of the ideas that have been put forward for dealing with the matter and wonder how this tragedy could have gone on so long undetected.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
“Among the few things that politicians can do when it comes to this terrifying, complex and hard to grasp issue is to make stricter laws. In this vein, members drawn from all parties have now suggested that the statute of limitations be abolished in cases of child abuse.”
“It actually would be sensible to allow this when it comes to civil lawsuits, which have had a 10-year limit — and a 20-year limit in severe cases — after the victim’s 18th birthday. Doing so would at least give victims a chance to bring their tormentors to justice in financial terms. In civil law, the fact that the evidence is so hard to gather after such a long period of time presents less of a problem because it is possible to draw comparisons, and they often favor the victims.”
“In criminal law, on the other hand, abolishing the statue of limitations is less useful than it might first appear to be. More than anything, it would be a symbolic act to put child abuse on par with murder, genocide and Nazi crimes. But what is already an extremely difficult case to prove would not be made any easier if we started dealing with cases that reach back 30 or 40 years. What’s more, doing so would not help the victims who are currently stepping forward because the statute of limitations cannot be lifted retroactively.”
“In order to help the victims, the political debate over statutes of limitations needs to go even farther. It needs to establish how schools and other establishments can create a climate in which children and youths can have the courage to break through the silence. The proposed round table announced by the federal government is a good step. It must aim to investigate things unsparingly and in a way that gives the victims their dignity back. Only then will it be possible for other victims to not keep their suffering to themselves for decades or their entire lives.”
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
“The Catholic practice was put to priests who had committed offenses on probation and post them in the next-best boarding school. That was an ineffective remedy. If you really want to protect children from pedophilic teachers, you need to find other security measures.”
“The Odenwaldschule did just that. When it was discovered that the well-respected educational reformer Gerold Becker raped a student 12 years ago, he was severely punished: He was kicked out, and the public prosecutor was asked to intervene. In 1999, on its own initiative, the school hosted a colloquium and set up a well-functioning ‘committee to guard against sexual violence,’ with seats on it for both teachers and students.”
“Still, that wasn’t enough. It has recently emerged that there were other cases of abuse at the Odenwaldschule, which also took place in the 1970s and 1980s. This shows that some victims need much more time than some can imagine before they are ready to come out with their story. Given these circumstances, all boarding and private schools should now take part in the investigation of such incidents — and without a moment’s delay. For some of the establishments, doing so will leave them with only one option: closing down. And if that isn’t possible, they’ll need to rebuild themselves from the ground up. That is surely the case for the monastery school in Ettal, and it might also be the case for the Odenwaldschule.
The conservative Die Welt writes:
“It’s hard to figure out how boarding-school teachers could abuse children for years without their parents getting suspicious that something was going on. Did the children have no or insufficient contact with their parents? Was their relationship of trust with their parents driven out of them, or was it lost because they were separated from them for such long periods of time? Or, the other way around, were the parents not interested in their children’s well-being? These are the questions that boarding schools and parents will have to answer. In essence, everything pivots on the issue of correct communication. If the abused children — who weren’t really all that young any more — had had the courage at that time to tell their parents about the horrible things they had experienced, they might have prevented much more from happening. One of the most insidious things about crimes committed by teachers is that, instead of making the students entrusted to them self-confident, they make them submissive. You aren’t going to see that advertised in any boarding-school prospectus.”
— Josh Ward
Germany’s Catholic Private School Abuse Scandal: ‘The Church Is Not a Criminal Organization’
Accusations of abuse have been reported in 20 of 27 German Catholic dioceses. Has abuse of children become systematic? In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, Johannes Siebner, director of the College St. Blasien, discusses failures of the Church in dealing with the victims.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Father Siebner, after years of silence, numerous victims of abuse at Catholic schools and institutions are now taking the risk of speaking publicly about their experiences. Accusations have now been registered in 20 of the 27 German dioceses. Can one still speak of regrettable, isolated incidents, as some Church representatives continue to do?
Johannes Siebner: Behind each individual case there’s an individual fate. That’s why we must speak of individual cases, in order to be fair to the individual victims. At the same time, we must examine whether there is a system behind these individual fates, or a systematic or systemic culture of looking the other way and willful ignorance in our institutions.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So is the abuse systematic?
Siebner: The Catholic Church is not a criminal organization. Anyone who claims that is going too far. The fact that the victims were children is attributable to the location and time of the crime as well as to specific priests or their bosses — as is the fact that their pain and injuries weren’t seen and people looked away. But there doesn’t appear to be any connection or agreements between the perpetrators — at least not in the cases at the Canisius school in Berlin or ours in St. Blasien. But to only speak of individual cases would trivialize the issue. The victims don’t see themselves merely as victims of individual perpetrators.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So we are discussing an atmosphere that fostered abuse. Psychologists say that the intimate environment of a boarding school, combined with the closed-off world of the Church, can cause these things to happen more easily. Do you think that’s correct?
Siebner: Is it really that simple? Your question is suggestive. The incidents at St. Blasien happened during normal school operations and weren’t necessarily connected to our boarding school. I don’t have any statistics and I am no expert, but my impression is that there is a danger in boarding schools because relationships can have a hermetic element to them, because team spirit can be a temptation and because the role of the educators is constructed as — and must be — one where absolute trust is placed in staff. But none of that is an argument against boarding schools, in the same way that it is not an argument against the institution of parenting.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The abuse is often played down — most recently by Austrian auxiliary bishop Andreas Laun of Salzburg, who told a German talk show host that similar cases happen in Protestant schools. Others have made the argument that abuse has also been perpetrated in groups like the Boy Scouts and atheletics clubs as well as within the family …
Siebner: I don’t pay attention to everything that is said, broadcast or published. But I am sad and skeptical when someone is successful in playing this down or distancing themselves from it. This negatively influences attitudes towards the victims. It also makes it more difficult to see things from the victims’ perspective.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Such attempts to divert attention away from the Church’s own responsibility completely contradict your own views on how one must deal with the issue of abuse.
Siebner: Yes, indeed. The experience of victims has shown that the abuse isn’t solely comprised of the act of abuse, but also the fact that the institutions have looked the other way.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How can abuse and violence on the part of teachers against students be prevented effectively?
Siebner: We need to create a school atmosphere in which a child can cry out if he has been injured and where that cry will also be heard — even if it is very quiet or very inconvenient. Such cries of pain are disruptive and are too quickly condemned as inappropriate. They disrupt the institution’s functioning and damage its reputation. We must teach teachers and school staff to recognize when a child has been harmed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are talking about a goal, but what can people do in concrete terms?
Siebner: We have to invest in schools’ culture and we have to encourage people to take responsibility. At the end of the day, we need transparent structures and procedures that are reliable and do not just exist on paper. A student body should also have a say. We need independent bodies that students can turn to.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think that should also include cooperation with local officials or the demand that teachers must bring a certificate of good conduct with them when they join a school?
Siebner: I don’t have anything against a certificate of good conduct — because we can use them to address issues. Last year, for example, we sent a teacher on an exchange program to England, where he was supposed to sleep at a boarding school. I had to fill out a form about him that was several pages long, and he had to present a certificate of conduct. At first I thought that was excessive. But then I realised that this is a sensitive area and the issue is being taken seriously. But one also cannot have the illusion that this is sufficient protection. But it does foster trust because it means the issue gets discussed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you called in the teachers at your school to question them about abuse?
Siebner: No, and I will not do that. That task has been assigned to me, in particular regarding the past 10 years …
SPIEGEL ONLINE: … because of the statute of limitations …
Siebner: … but I will not place 75 teachers under general suspicion. If there is no concrete suspicion, then I will not question my employees. What right do I have to do that?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Regardless, thousands of parents place their trust in the education and moral values of religious private schools.
Siebner: I understand parents who want to have clarity and safety, and when they ask questions about this issue, I take them very seriously. But this is not a conflict that I can resolve. I can’t just order every teacher into my office, give them 10 minutes and ask them the question: Have you ever touched small children inappropriately? I can not and do not want to place all parents under general suspicion just because of the fact that abuse occurs in some families.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: If you don’t want to address it that way, then what is the most appropriate way of dealing with the issue?
Siebner: Even I don’t have any ready-made solutions. Those who offer them too quickly generally only want to reassure the general public.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You sound derogatory when you say “general public.” But the reputation of Catholic private school has been shaken. You have to respond to that.
Siebner: But not with knee-jerk reactions or attempts at placation. Neither works, because it doesn’t do justice to the victims. Of course I want to protect the school’s reputation as well as that of the Church — what kind of school director would I be if I didn’t? But I have made a decision: My first priority is to put myself in the shoes of the victims. That’s not always easy for me to do. My wish is to send a signal to every victim: I believe you, and I am thankful that you are talking. To be honest, on the second point I needed some time and it took a lot of strength. That is spiritually challenging.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: For years the abuse was covered up and kept quiet. Some victims were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements in exchange for compensation payments.
Siebner: I assume there were cases like that. The victims aren’t making this stuff up.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should charges be brought in each individual case?
Siebner: What is a case? Where does abuse begin? It can’t be addressed easily with sweeping answers. My astonishing experience has been that many victims wouldn’t talk if charges were going to be immediately brought. At the same time, if I go too far in taking care of my employees and adopting the assumption that they are innocent, then I also risk silencing the victims yet again. The message then would be that I don’t believe them. It’s a real dilemma. The only solution I can really see to this is to have independent ombudspeople.
Interview conducted by Oliver Trenkamp.
Catholic Scandal Spreads: Former Regensburg Choirboys Talk of ‘Naked Beatings’
Former choirboys of the Regensburger Domspatzen have told SPIEGEL about sexual and physical abuse at two boarding schools attached to the famous Catholic choir. One former choirboy says it’s “inexplicable” that the Pope’s brother Georg Ratzinger, a former head of the choir, didn’t know about it.
The abuse scandal at the Regensburger Domspatzen choir is bigger than had been thought so far. Therapists in and around Munich treated several former choirboys who were traumatized by sexual and other physical abuse.
One man affected told SPIEGEL about cruel rituals in the Etterzhausen boarding school, a preparatory school for younger pupils from which the choir draws its recruits.
He said that at the end of the 1950s the headmaster of the school, a Catholic priest, had dealt out hard physical punishments. He had often practiced what was called “naked beatings” in his private rooms, where boys aged eight or nine had to undress and were beaten by hand. In some cases, the victim said, penetration took place.
The director and composer Franz Wittenbrink, who lived in the Regensburg boarding school of the choir until 1967, said the school had an “elaborate system of sadistic punishments combined with sexual lust.”
He said the headmaster at the time “would choose two or three of us boys in the dormitories in the evenings and take them to his flat.” He said there had been red wine, and that the priest had masturbated with the pupils. “Everyone knew about it,” said Wittenbrink. “I find it inexplicable that the Pope’s brother Georg Ratzinger, who had been cathedral bandmaster since 1964, apparently knew nothing about it.”
One fellow pupil had committed suicide shortly before taking his high-school exams, Wittenbrink said. Despite many indications, the Regensburg Diocese did not make abuse cases public until contacted by SPIEGEL last Thursday. Now the chair has pledged to investigate everything rigorously and to present an interim report at the end of March.
The allegations against former teachers are the latest to come to light in a scandal over sexual abuse at Catholic schools in Germany.
Pope’s Brother Says Knew Nothing
Georg Ratzinger, the brother of Pope Benedict XVI, told an Italian newspaper he was willing to testify in the sex scandal but knows nothing about the alleged abuse of boys in the Regensburg choir.
In an interview published Sunday, Ratzinger was quoted as saying by the Rome daily La Repubblica that there was “discipline and rigor” but no terror during his 30 years as head of the Regensburg choir from 1964 until 1994.
The pope’s brother also said the abuse accusations also reflected “a certain animosity toward the church.”
The Vatican had said on Saturday that two cases of sexual abuse linked to the Regensburg choir did not coincide with the 30-year period it was led by Georg Ratzinger.
‘Great Deal of Anger’
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano printed a statement on Saturday by the Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, saying that one case of abuse by the deputy director of a primary school linked to the choir was detected in 1958
In addition, the paper called for action to be taken against those responsible. Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told the paper that perpetrators need to be brought to court and victims compensated for their suffering.
He said he has followed the ever growing scandal in Germany with “deep disappointment, pain and a great deal of anger.” There is “no justification, no tolerance,” he continued. At issue is a “despicable crime that must be pursued with absolute resolve.”
SPIEGEL with wire reports
Calls for Full Investigation: Number of Church Abuse Cases Continues to Rise in Germany
The Catholic Church in Germany is under pressure as more and more cases of sexual abuse come to light. Now the government is demanding that the Church take rigorous action to investigate the incidents. By SPIEGEL staff.
For years, Jörg D. was plagued by feelings of shame, insecurity and rage. Finally, on Sept. 17, 2009, he sent the pope a four-page letter describing his plight. “I beg you for help, in whatever form possible,” he wrote.
But Benedict XVI remained silent. To this day, Jörg D., now 25, has not received a response, “not even a two-liner, nothing, nothing at all
Franz-Josef Bode, the bishop of the city of Osnabrück in northwestern Germany, hasn’t been much help either. He advised D., a victim of abuse, to “forgive and forget.”
In fact, Bishop Bode wants all the 14 victims, who at the time were altar boys and children preparing to receive their first communion, to forgive and forget. Over the course of several years, ending in 1995, they were sexually abused a total of 227 times by their priest in a village near the Dutch border. The priest involved, Father Alois B., got off lightly, with only a probation sentence.
“The church was more concerned about the offenders than the victims,” says Jörg D. “It provided them with therapy, stays in health resorts, new apartments or new positions, and it assiduously wiped away their old tracks. The abused children were left to fend for themselves.”
German Church Apologizes
New allegations of abuse by members of the Catholic Church are emerging every day. Ursula Raue, a Berlin attorney who has been engaged by the Jesuits to handle abuse cases, has counted 12 suspects and 120 victims in the space of only three weeks. Raue says that the order knew of only two suspects and seven victims in late January. “The numbers are rising by the day,” she says. Many other orders, Catholic institutions and parishes are affected, as new victims report cases of alleged abuse to dioceses, newspapers and counseling centers throughout the country.
Despite the apparent urgency of the situation, Germany’s highest-ranking Catholic, Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, had been unavailable for comment for weeks during the scandal. At a meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference this week in Freiburg, the issue of “sexual abuse” was initially intended as a secondary item on the agenda. “The aging society” was meant to be the main focus of the meeting.
However Zollitsch on Monday told the conference that he wanted to apologize in the name of the Church to the victims of abuse at Catholic schools. “Sexual abuse of children is always a horrible crime,” he said, adding that he wanted to “apologize to all those who were victims of such crimes.”
Biggest Scandal in Decades
In reacting to what is probably the biggest scandal within their ranks in decades, German bishops have seemed helpless and dazed, sometimes concerned about the victims, but often stubborn, out of touch with reality or ignorant — and generally confused. Some say they are “stunned and concerned,” while others, like Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, have summarily assigned some of the blame for the abuse to the “so-called sexual revolution.”
All of the publicity has overshadowed the more urgent needs of conducting a thorough investigation into the incidents, prosecution of the offenders and help for the victims.
What is needed is an independent commission, with a staff to investigate all allegations and hold accountable the offenders and those who knew about them within the church hierarchy. Such a commission would also have to ensure that the long-neglected victims finally receive counseling, therapy and compensation.
This is the way the abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church in Ireland and the United States were dealt with. Commissions in those two countries investigated thousands of alleged offenders. Ireland’s commission was headed by an experienced judge, who was given the authority to inspect secret Church records and question the parties involved. Are Germany’s bishops afraid of so much transparency and the results it could yield?
Hiding Behind Pretexts
Even the German government is unequivocally calling upon Church leaders to take action — an extremely unusual approach in the context of the relationship between Church and state.
“I expect the Catholic Church to provide concrete information on which measures are being taken for a complete investigation,” says German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. “It is not very helpful when a few people in positions of authority, like Bishop Mixa, hide behind polemical pretexts instead of helping to resolve the matter.”
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), proposes the appointment of ombudsmen and a round table of representatives of the government, the Church and victims. Such a panel, she says, would be “a good way to clear up the many abuse cases and give the Catholic Church an opportunity to enter into dialogue with the victims over voluntary compensation.
The prevalent view within the clergy, however, is still that sexual assaults are isolated cases, the regrettable transgressions of brothers gone astray. German bishops are determined to avoid the fate of their Irish counterparts, who were summoned to Rome last week for a public dressing-down over their handling of child abuse scandals.
At the same time, the many new suspected cases indicate that abuse of children and adolescents was apparently widespread throughout the Catholic world. One of the German Catholic institutions where child abuse allegedly took place is the Franz Sales House, a facility for handicapped people in the western city of Essen, which recently celebrated its 125th anniversary as a “venerable institution with a great history.” It represents “a culture of attentiveness,” Essen Auxiliary Bishop Franz Vorrath said.
Rolf-Michael Decker describes what he claims happened to him there as a 14-year-old. “We were sometimes locked into rooms in the attic, for example after attempts to run away,” he recalls. “One night K., one of the teachers, stood in front of my bed and told me to come with him. He took me to his room, locked the door and told me to take off my nightshirt. He began fondling me and undressed himself in the process. It was all very strange to me, and I felt uncomfortable, but he threatened me, saying that if I didn’t keep quiet I would be locked up for much longer.”
According to Decker, other boys were also subjected to rape and anal sex over a period of years. He also accuses a priest who worked at the facility of sexual abuse. “During confession, he would ask us about obscene things while masturbating.” Decker, 55, has already found four other witnesses.
An investigation into the dark past of the Franz Sales House could have been launched once before, in 2002. At the time, the director, who had been accused of sexual abuse, albeit not at the Franz Sales House itself, resigned immediately “so as not to harm the good reputation of the Franz Sales House over a transgression that happened long ago.” The Church was apparently not interested in pursuing the issue further.
Today, however, the current director of the institution, Günter Oelscher, does want to see the abuse allegations cleared up, “regardless of (the effect on) the institution’s image.”
Apparently the order of the Salesians of Don Bosco has been particularly hard-hit. As a spokeswoman admitted in response to a SPIEGEL inquiry last Friday, abuse allegations have been leveled against four individuals currently or previously associated with the order, both members of the order and employees. They relate to the former Salesians of Don Bosco, where two priests and an employee allegedly molested underage youths until the 1970s.
Another accusation is directed against a former member of the Salesian order, who worked in the Don Bosco Students’ Home in the Bavarian city of Augsburg until the mid-1970s. According to spokeswoman Gabriele Merk-Horstmann, the order intends to look into “all allegations without regard to the identity of the individuals involved,” and to “offer victims the support available to us.”
Sexual abuse is also believed to have occurred in a children’s home run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in the town of Oggelsbeuren in southern Germany. A victim says that, as a child, he was required to bring the pastor his meals in his room. The pastor apparently showed the boy pornographic images while fondling him. The man was later transferred abroad. The case was submitted to the abuse commission of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese late last week.
At a Catholic Marist boarding school in the Bavarian town of Mindelheim, boys aged 13 to 15 were allegedly summoned to the room of a lay teacher which was adjacent to the students’ dormitory during the night. According to a former student, the teacher would then give the children brandy until they were drunk, and would then molest and, in some cases, rape them.
The witness estimates the number of affected boys at “10 to 15,” just in his dormitory alone. Father Winfried Schreieck, the former director of the school, says today that he never heard of the abuse allegations. He adds that he is also certain “that those in charge of the order attempt to clear up any accusations that abuse victims report to the order.”
Dozens of former victims of abuse have contacted SPIEGEL in the last two weeks with similar reports. Some say that now, decades later, they still feel disgust at the thought of the fondling, flirtation and kisses coming from the priests and laypeople, while others remain traumatized today after having been raped as children.
‘Nothing Was Right in My World Anymore’
The names of the institutions, parishes and orders involved read like a who’s who of the Catholic establishment. The Franciscans, for example, are dealing with charges of sexual abuse at a boarding school, long since closed, in Grosskrotzenburg near Frankfurt. A former student claims that several priests at the school engaged in abusive acts between the late 1960s and early 1970s. “We have contacted the former student, so that we can discuss the charges and, if possible, clear them up,” says Hadrian Koch, the Franciscan provincial vicar in charge of the case.
Many Catholic entities and organizations, including the Salvatorians, the Pallottines, parishes, Church-run children’s homes and scouting organizations, must now deal with allegations from former students.
Given their experiences, however, many victims have little confidence in an investigation conducted by precisely the institution that concealed the abuse, sometimes for years or even decades.
“What I experienced changed something fundamental in me,” says a man who, as a child, was placed in a kind of relocation camp in Unna-Massen near Dortmund for ethnic Germans who were immigrating to Germany from former Communist countries. There, he was abused in a car by a priest from the Paderborn diocese.
“All of a sudden, nothing was right in my world anymore,” the man recalls. “An offender like that has no idea what he’s destroying in someone.”
FRANK HORNIG, SVEN RÖBEL, MARCEL ROSENBACH, PETER WENSIERSKI
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan