Scandal Widens Pope Remains Silent as Abuse Allegations Hit Close to Home
Part 2: Did the Pope Really Not Know?
Von Hentig doesn't blame himself for not having noticed anything. "I of course observed constantly and very carefully: filled with envy of this man who managed to relate so well to children, to explain things to them, to divert their attention or patiently coax them in order to keep them from getting into some kind of mischief. Filled with envy of 'his' wonderful school."
Why do those in positions of authority, including supervisors and witnesses, tend to have such difficulty getting to the bottom of these allegations, as is the case with von Hentig? Why are the state and the Church so helpless when it comes to the abuse of minors?
The Irish have demonstrated that it is possible to break through the wall of silence. For years, Yvonne Murphy, a judge acting at the behest of the government, headed an independent commission investigating how the Irish Roman Catholic Church handled complaints of clerical child sexual abuse.
Her report, released last November, concluded that "the vast majority (of priests) simply chose to turn a blind eye" to abuse.
'No Concern for the Abused Child'
The commission also found that the Church failed to act internally and ignored its own rules relating to priests suspected of abusing children. "For many years offenders were neither persecuted nor made accountable within the Church," the report says, citing an "obsessive concern with secrecy" and concluding that "there was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child."
In Germany, federal and state governments would still rather leave it up to the bishops to clear up the allegations, despite the fact that these patriarchs of the Church have not indicated that they are genuinely capable of tackling the issue. Many Catholic leaders see incidents of abuse as unfortunate isolated episodes -- and not as a systemic problem.
Such an attitude disregards the fact that this has been a problem for the clergy right from the start -- and throughout 2,000 years of church history. "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea," it is written in the Gospel of Matthew. In his Epistles to the Corinthians, even Paul inveighed against "boy prostitutes" and "pederasts."
Throughout the centuries, popes have threatened priests with punishment should they sexually abuse children. Such members of the clergy "shall be released from the priesthood or locked away to do penance in monasteries," wrote Pope Alexander III (1159 to 1181). They should be "punished according to Church or state laws," threatened Pope Leo X (1513 to 1521).
Despite these condemnations, Germany's bishops today still tend to turn a blind eye to "pederasts" in the clergy.
A Number of Hurdles
To the German Catholic Church's credit, however, Archbishop Zollitsch recently appointed the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, to look into abuse cases. Ackermann promptly received a flood of phone calls, letters and e-mails from alleged victims. Still, he faces hurdles before he can begin his work. The German Bishops' Conference first has to decide where his office will be -- in Trier or Bonn? How many staff members is he allowed to have? What kind of equipment? How large will his budget be?
Fundamentalist bishops like Gerhard Ludwig Müller from Regensburg would rather adopt a more confrontational approach. Müller accuses SPIEGEL of "abusing the freedom of the press" in its reports on the Church, and he says that the magazine "is guilty of violating the human dignity of all Catholic priests and members of the order." He compares today's "anti-Catholic media campaigns against celibacy and Catholic sexual morals" to the "infamous speech by the master of sedition held in Berlin's Deutschlandhalle in 1937" -- a reference to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' attack on the Church. For Müller, in other words, critical reporting on the issue is far worse than the beating, rape and humiliation of children.
Meanwhile, new reports of horrendous abuse continue to pour in from his diocese -- primarily from the Regensburger Domspatzen.
From 1953 to 1992, Monsignor Hans Meier ruled with an iron fist over generations of choirboys who were under his tutelage in the Etterzhausen boarding school, a preparatory school for younger pupils from which the choir draws its recruits.
Religious services were held three times a day. Afterwards, in rows of two, the young boys would march from the church to the dining hall. When mail was distributed, the boys were forced to stand lined up in rank and file, and they often received severe beatings.
'Nothing that Merited My Attention'
Christian Wilbrand began attending the school at the age of nine in 1966. He recalls:
The idea was to shatter the personalities of us children. Brutality and our own fear were pervasive. Tortures included beatings with willow branches on the fingertips or the backside, punches to the head, pulling pupils up by their hair and hitting them with books. It didn't take long to beat the childhood right out of us; I often felt like I was on the verge of dying. Once my homeroom teacher hurled me with such force against the blackboard that I lost consciousness. Etterzhausen was a planet of horrors.
Is it conceivable that Georg Ratzinger knew nothing about this? As director of the cathedral choir, he took in the children from the fifth grade up, who then lived in his boarding school in Regensburg. He says: "When we were on concert tours, pupils would tell me about what life had been like for them at Etterzhausen. But their stories didn't strike me as anything that merited my official attention."
In 1971, when Ratzinger had already been the choir director for seven years, a local priest was sentenced to 11 months in prison for sexual abuse. The man in question was both the institution's music prefect and the head of the boarding school. Georg Ratzinger had an apartment in the building that housed the Domspatzen, and his brother Joseph often visited him there. Did they never hear anything about this case?
Former choirboy Mayer, who accompanied a large number of concert tours, says that he also witnessed widespread sexual and physical violence until he left the boarding school in 1992. He says that he himself was raped by older fellow students. Mayer also claims that anal sex took place between students on a number of occasions in a prefect's apartment, right next to the rooms used by the senior classes. "They simply passed on the pressure of a totalitarian system," he says.
Allegedly Knew Nothing
The Regensburg Diocese has refused to comment on any of the allegations -- and Georg Ratzinger is now remaining silent as well.
And what of Benedict XVI? Publicly he has not uttered a single word about the allegations against his brother.
Indeed, he has still refrained from commenting on the cases dating back to his tenure as Archbishop of Munich. The priest Peter H. first came to the attention of the diocese in Essen after he forced an 11-year-old boy to engage in oral sex. He was sent to Munich for therapy. In 1980, as a member of the Diocese Council, Joseph Ratzinger was involved in a decision to grant Peter H. accommodations in a parsonage.
Shortly thereafter, the man was again involved in pastoral duties, with no restrictions whatsoever. In 1986, a court in Ebersberg gave H. an 18-month suspended prison sentence because he had once again sexually abused a minor, this time in the Bavarian town of Grafing.
H. was nevertheless reinstated and he held holiday services with children from the Heart of Jesus Daycare Center in Garching, and had numerous contacts with minors.
Just last Friday, he was scheduled to attend the ITB Berlin tourism trade show and take part in a panel discussion on "pilgrims' paths, village churches and monastery vacations." H. canceled at the last minute.
"Reassigning H. to pastoral ministry was a serious mistake. I take full responsibility," says former Munich Vicar-General Gerhard Gruber.
The pope allegedly knew nothing about the entire case.
By Matthias Bartsch, Frank Hornig, Conny Neumann, Markus Verbeet and Peter Wensierski
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
- Part 1: Pope Remains Silent as Abuse Allegations Hit Close to Home
- Part 2: Did the Pope Really Not Know?