Scandal Widens Pope Remains Silent as Abuse Allegations Hit Close to Home

Allegations of sexual abuse in the German Catholic Church continue to surface. Questions have been raised about what Pope Benedict XVI may have known about specific incidents of abuse and his brother, Georg Ratzinger, is also under fire. The pope, however, has so far remained silent.


Georg Ratzinger came clean about his transgressions. Indeed, it seemed to be the end of the matter -- one which placed him squarely in the center of Germany's ever expanding Church abuse scandal.

"In the beginning, I slapped (the boys) in the face on a number of occasions," said Ratzinger, who, for decades, was the director of the Regensburger Domspatzen, one of the most renowned boys' choirs in Germany. But he stopped the practice back in 1980, he says, because the state had banned corporal punishment. He says that he "strictly" observed the new law.

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Photo Gallery: Church Abuse in Germany Continues to Broaden
Former choirboys tell a different story. They still shudder when they recall the reverend's severity -- and his tendency toward violence, even in later years.

"Ratzinger was extremely choleric and quick-tempered during choir practice," says Thomas Mayer, who was a student at the choir boarding school from 1988 to 1992. "On a number of occasions, I saw him get so angry that he threw a chair into our group of singers." Once Ratzinger flew into such a rage during choir practice "that even his false teeth fell out," says Mayer.

Ratzinger, 86, now lives in a monastery and has declined to comment further. Clarification of the matter has now been left to his younger brother: Pope Benedict XVI.

Last Friday, Benedict XVI met in the Vatican with the Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Robert Zollitsch, to talk about violence and sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests in his native Germany. Just like his older brother, the pope would like the world to believe that the Church has changed its ways. Benedict XVI and Zollitsch vowed to shed light on cases of abuse and assist the victims.

How Sincere?

But shortly after Zollitsch left for Germany, the pope found himself haunted by his own past as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. His former archdiocese admitted to the center-left German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that a pedophile priest had been reinstated to a Catholic parish in Munich during Ratzinger's tenure.

What does the pope know from personal experience about the abuse problem? And how sincere is his promise to finally clear up the allegations of abuse?

Hardly anyone in the inner circle of the Vatican is better informed on Catholic sex scandals than His Holiness the Pope. Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formally known as the Inquisition. Reported cases of abuse automatically landed on his desk. Since 2001, as the Church's most powerful cardinal, and subsequently as the pope, Ratzinger has spearheaded the Vatican's ongoing efforts to shed light on this troublesome issue.

Nevertheless, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has continued to regularly generate headlines. First, there were the waves of scandals in the US and Ireland. Now, hardly a day goes by in Germany without a new story on further allegations of abuse.

By the end of last week, some 200 presumed victims had contacted Ursula Raue, a Berlin attorney engaged by the Jesuits to handle abuse cases -- and complaints are pouring in from all areas of the Church. Some 150 people have come forward with stories of abuse at the monastery school in Ettal, and roughly 15 former choirboys have grievances relating to the Regensburger Domspatzen.

Complex Nature of the Problem

On top of this, there have been reports from other areas of society. Cases have surfaced virtually everywhere: in the Protestant Church, in secular boarding schools like Odenwaldschule and in children's homes in the former East Germany. The numbers are still a far cry from those linked to the Catholic Church, but they do reveal the complex nature of the problem.

It is a scandal the likes of which German society has not seen for years, and it will likely be months before it fades. Nonetheless, it is being inadequately addressed -- often to a shocking degree.

This is true of the Catholic Church, which continues to damage itself as it hesitates between calls to clear up cases of abuse and the urge to hush things up. But it is also true of the state, as members of the government either let things take their course or drone on about the latest toothless initiative.

Should there be roundtable talks reserved only for members of the Catholic Church, or should they be open to a wide range of social groups? This question alone kept German ministers Kristina Schröder (family affairs), Annette Schavan (education and research) and Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (justice) squabbling for days -- while Chancellor Angela Merkel stayed clear of the fray. A "broad and intensive debate" is required as a preliminary step, said Merkel's spokesman.

At the same time, the German school system has been severely shaken. Former students at the secular Odenwaldschule in Hesse describe systematic abuse that continued until at least the 1990s. Eight former teachers, one of whom taught there until 2003, are the subject of serious allegations made by nearly three dozen former students.

Laid Him on the Bed

One former student says that he was only allowed to call his parents twice a week -- and to do this, he had to use the phone in Gerold Becker's bedroom. Becker was the school principal from 1971 to 1985. When the student was sad about the end of his telephone call, he says that Becker laid him on the bed, undressed him, touched the boy's crotch, and then masturbated.

Another former student told of his fear of being the last one in the shower room with Becker after gym class. Yet another said that he was forced to engage in oral sex. "There was no way of avoiding them," says Gerhard Roese, 48, who now lives in the German city of Darmstadt. He says that he was repeatedly forced to stimulate his music teacher's genitalia with his hand. Distraught over the incidents, the boy confided in the school principal, but he only "smirked, hemmed and hawed, and said something about the Greeks," says Roese.

Becker refuses to comment on the allegations. But questions have also been aimed at Hartmut von Hentig, 84, the doyen of Germany's progressive education movement -- and Becker's long-time companion. Von Hentig has been pursued by journalists for days, he says. SPIEGEL was only able to submit questions to him in written form -- and he faxed back his answers.

In his response, von Hentig warned against false allegations and underscored that so far, "statements have only been collected, they have not yet been verified." He himself visited the boarding school on a number of occasions. Did he not find cause for suspicion?

"No," he replied. When he stayed overnight at Odenwaldschule, he "usually" slept in the official guest room. "The only time I actually saw Gerold Becker interact with the boys and girls at the school was when we all took our meals together in the dining hall or when we walked across the school grounds, and they jumped up to him and he fended them off in a friendly manner: 'You can see that I have a guest.'"


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