Irish abuse crisis aftershocks hit German, Dutch Catholic churches

March 5, 2010
bavarian vatican

Bavarian flag at St. Peter's Basilica after Pope Benedict's election, 23 April 2005/Tom Heneghan

It’s like falling dominoes. The scandal of Roman Catholic priests sexually abusing children in Ireland, which came to light last year when two government inquiries cracked the wall of clerical silence there, seems to have inspired victims in other European countries to come forward with their repressed stories. It started in Germany last month with revelations about abuse cases in several elite Jesuit boarding schools. That sparked further reports from other parts of Germany, where reports of hundreds of cases are now coming out. In the neighbouring Netherlands, reports of abuse have also begun surfacing in recent days. On top of all that, an unrelated scandal about a gay prostitution ring has now hit the Vatican.

Since Pope Benedict summoned all Irish bishops to Rome and promised the Irish people a pastoral letter about the abuse cases, what will he do with all these cases now coming out in his homeland? Especially since, as explained below, he seems to have been quite close to some of them.


The Ratzingers in the church where they were baptised in Marktl am Inn, Germany, 11 Sept 2006/Andreas Gebert

The abuse cases reported today in Regensburg in northern Bavaria are particularly embarrassing for the Church because Pope Benedict’s brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger, was director of the “Domspatzen” (Cathedral Sparrows) choir from 1964 to 1994. The abuse cases in the choir’s boarding school dated between 1958 and 1973, so nine years on Fr. Ratzinger’s watch. He told Bavarian Radio he knew nothing about any abuse.

The pope himself lived in Regensburg from 1969 to 1997, when he taught theology at the university there as Professor Joseph Ratzinger. He had nothing to do with the choir officially, of course, but he was a very prominent member of the Church community there. Although he has spoken out about the Irish scandals and has promised a pastoral letter to the Irish people, he has been much more reticent about what’s happening in his own country. It’s hard to imagine he can keep a low profile for too much longer.

Our news report from Berlin today tells most of the story with some selected quotes from news conferences today. Following are a few more quotes to give a fuller idea of what was said.

In Ettal, a southern Bavarian village near Garmisch-Partenkirchen whose baroque Benedictine monastery is one of the most beautiful in Germany, lawyer Thomas Pfister told journalists what he found while investigating abuse charges at the boarding school there:

“One can say with certainty that in past years, in what I call the very dark years of Ettal Abbey, it’s certain that hundreds of pupils were mishandled. It wasn’t just little clouts on the head, as some seem to want to play them down to be. There were very extreme cases of mishandling, which normally would have been punished with long prison sentences.

“A cloak of silence was thrown over the charges. I have so many indications (of mishandling) that one cannot seriously believe that the superiors at the time couldn’t guess what was going on or didn’t know it. There was a culture of collective silence, a collective looking away…

“The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s must certainly be called the darkest years of Ettal Abbey. Back then, pupils were systematically mishandled and, though the person of Father Magnus who has since died, there was serial sexual harassment and sexual abuse on small and older children.”


Ettal Abbey, March 3, 2010/Johannes Eisele

Rev Johannes Bauer, the monastery treasurer, made a personal confession to the journalists: “Along with other colleagues, I was a teacher in the boarding school from 1985 to 1987. To my shame, I have to say openly that I also brutally abused children physically and humiliated them. I am very sorry and ask forgiveness from the bottom of my heart. I ask all those who I personally injured to contact me so I can personally beg them for forgiveness.” After outlining how the monastery was changing, he added: “We have to admit, several of us were outright brutal back then!” Pfister said Bauer had admitted to having used “objects” to beat boys with. There were also reports that one priest had child pornography on his computer and uploaded pictures of Ettal school boys to gay websites.

A third centre of abuse was at a Capucian school in Burghausen, also in southern Bavaria. A former director of the school had abused boys sexually in 1984-1985, the order said in a statement.The most interesting revelation was the way the order shifted that priest around from job to job until it couldn’t any longer. The statement said “the accused priest was transferred to Munich in 1985 to work as a pastor in a hospital run by the order, but had to leave in 1989 after accusations and differences with the sisters. From 1989 to 2009 he was a pastor for pilgrims in Würzburg. Since he refused to be transferred on several occasions, the order suspended him from his priestly work in agreement with the Würzburg diocese. The abuse charges were legally investigated in 1991 but the statute of limitations had already passed.”

After that 1991 investigation, the Capucian order informed Bavarian dioceses about him and also informed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which was then run by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. “From there came the directive that the accused priest should not be employed in work with children and youths or in hearing confessions. He was also told to go into therapy,” it said.


Ettal Abbey with sign for "Ein Herz für Kinder" (A Heart for Children) from a children's aid group, 3 March 2010/Johannes Eisele

So the Bavarian Capucians first shuffled him around a bit and, when they turned to Cardinal Ratzinger’s CDF for guidance, were told to give him some therapy and keep a low profile. The statement didn’t say why the order tried several times to move the priest out of  Würzburg, but it seems it was repeating the move-’em-around strategy that so discredited the American bishops when their scandals came to light. Given the firm hand with which he presided over the CDF and much of the rest of the Vatican bureaucracy, is it possible that Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t know about this case from his own native state? And again, can Pope Benedict keep silent on another case so close to home?

The German and Dutch stories seem set to continue. The Dutch bishops will be discussion their scandals at a meeting next Tuesday and Germany’s top Catholic bishop, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, has an audience with fellow German Pope Benedict three days later. There were clear hints at news conferences in  Regensburg and Ettal the continuing investigations would probably bring more cases to light.

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Another perspicuous posting. I believe that this is the main reason that we have not seen a consistory. People have been asking me as to why there wasn’t one at the end of 2009 as I had hoped. I think the pope is reluctant to create any new cardinals in this simmering climate of scandal, distrust and accusations. I could be wrong BUT I think this pope, despite his past reputation as ‘THE ENFORCER,’ is much more ‘sensitive’ than his predecessor. I even think there is genuine contrition. Hence his reluctance to create any new cardinals — at present. I think, it is his way of saying ‘I am not happy with what has been happening on OUR watch.’ My opinion. i don’t know. Tom, do YOU have any thoughts on how this scandal impacts the creation of new cardinals.
Keep up the good work. I again now have time, albeit just for a few weeks, to cruise the Web. Catch up. Thanks Tom.
Anura Guruge

Posted by aguruge | Report as abusive

Anura, I have no idea why the pope has waited to call another consistory and I haven’t investigated the issue. The list of cardinals who have passed or will soon pass their 80th birthdays, after which they can no longer elect the next pope, is the main criterion. I would think that if he wants to send a message of discontent, he has such a wide array of options to make his opinion clear or semi-clear that delaying a consistory seems like a very obscure way to communicate.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Glad to hear from YOU. We have Spring in NH … so it must be just lovely in Paris.
Tom, not sure if you knew BUT I maintain up to date demographics on the College of Cardinals, differentiating between the electors and now electors. I will have to update it again on Monday. Another cardinal turns 80.
But here is a TABLE that you are your readers will find handy: llege-of-cardinals-latest-demographics-a s-of-january-28-2010-182-cardinals-111-e lectors-71-non-electors/

Posted by aguruge | Report as abusive

One final point on this. Delaying a consistory is not meant to signal much to the congregation. Most are oblivious to when consistories are held. I think it is meant to be a message to the bishops and archbishops that the pope is in no mood to promote any of them right now. That was my point. It is like them getting grounded. No red hats right now. Lets get this thing sorted out. Then we can think about some new red hats. All this said there is NO NEED for a consistory this year or next. We still have plenty of electors. There will be 110 as of Monday (assuming everybody is in good health). Even with ‘normal’ attrition we should still be around 100 by NEXT year. 100 is plenty enough. So, one can also argue that there is no need for a consistory and that consistories and cardinals BOTH cost money.

Posted by aguruge | Report as abusive

A little bit of papal trivia that will amuse you and your readers.
Paul VI (sixth) held six consistories. The last a rather atypical one during which he created but four cardinals — but one of them was the current pope.
All of Paul VI’s six consistories were held on a Monday.
He has a reputation for precision and detail. Here is an example. His successors, alak, were not as rigorous when it came to when they scheduled consistories.
YES, if you are thinking … I am studying and analyzing consistory trends. <> No, it is NOT for a book. This is just downtime. I just PUBLISHED, this morning, a book for my 81 year old father on Buddhism. Nice balance. We writes about Buddhism, I write about popes.
Thanks, Tom.

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