What Is the Pope's Role in Church Abuse Scandal?

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."

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