Irish abuse crisis aftershocks hit German, Dutch Catholic churches
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 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.”
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.
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.