At least 231 children who sang in a boys’ choir led for 30 years by the brother of former Pope Benedict XVI were abused over a period of almost four decades, a lawyer investigating reports of wrongdoing said Friday.
The lawyer, Ulrich Weber, who was commissioned by the choir to look into accusations of beatings, torture or sexual abuse, said he thought that the actual abuse was even more widespread.
At a news conference in Regensburg, Bavaria, where the choir traces its roots to the year 975, Mr. Weber estimated that from 1953 to 1992, every third member of the choir and an attached school suffered some kind of physical abuse.
He attributed the beatings and other mistreatment mostly to Johann Meier, director of a lower school attached to the choir from 1953 until his retirement in 1992. Mr. Meier died suddenly later that year, Mr. Weber said. A 1987 investigation of reported abuse did not prompt the choir’s leaders to remove Mr. Meier or take other action, the lawyer said.
Asked whether Benedict’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, who conducted the Regensburg choir from 1964 to 1994, had known of the abuse, Mr. Weber said, “After my research, I must assume so.”
Father Ratzinger, who turns 92 this month, is the older brother of Joseph Ratzinger, who served as pope from April 2005 until he stepped down on Feb. 28, 2013, saying he was too frail to fulfill the full range of his duties. Now known as the pope emeritus, he still lives in the Vatican; his brother resides in Regensburg.
Mr. Weber noted that, as conductor of the choir, Father Georg Ratzinger sat on a three-person supervisory body, along with the directors of the high school and the boarding school attached to the choir, that was supposed to oversee the lower school where Mr. Meier worked.
Mr. Weber started investigating the Regensburger Domspatzen, as the choir is known, in 2015 and said he had interviewed dozens of victims and figures in charge. He said at least 40 of the 231 abuse cases also involved sexual violence, “from fondling to rapes.” Most cases are too old for legal action now, he said.
The choir has been run since 1994 by Ronald Buchner, who is not associated with the Roman Catholic Church.
The first accusations of physical punishments and sexual abuse in the choir surfaced in 2010, in connection with other reported abuses in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, Belgium and Austria. The Diocese of Regensburg last year spoke of 72 victims and offered about $2,700 in compensation.
Mr. Weber said that after his report Friday, at least eight people who had not previously come forward with accusations of abuse had contacted him.
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