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."
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 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.