Minister warns abuse of 3,677 children by about 1,670 clerics may be ‘tip of the iceberg’ for Catholic church
A “shocking” report into the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Germany is “probably only the tip of the iceberg”, the country’s justice minister has said.
The German Catholic church presented the results of an investigation into decades of sexual abuse of children on Tuesday afternoon. The report details the cases of 3,677 children, the majority of whom are male, who were sexually abused between 1946 and 2014. About 1,670 clerics, mainly priests, are implicated.
The justice minister, Katarina Barley, encouraged the church to work with the judicial system to bring as many cases as possible to court.
Ahead of the report’s official release at the German bishops’ conference in Fulda, the head of the German church, Reinhard Marx, said it urgently needed to rebuild trust with churchgoers and the public. “Many people don’t believe in us any longer,” he said, calling the report a “decisive, important turning point for the Catholic church in Germany – and not only in Germany”.
Marx said he felt ashamed and wanted to apologise to the victims.
The report’s release coincided with an acknowledgement by Pope Francis that people were being driven away from the church by the many abuse scandals and cover-ups, including most recently in the US and Chile.
On a recent visit to Ireland, while the issue of sexual abuse dominated the agenda, the pope was accused of failing to address victims’ concerns adequately.
Although Tuesday’s report – details of which were leaked earlier this month – was the biggest of its kind for the German Catholic church, its main author was critical of faith leaders for having denied him access to other Catholic institutions, including children’s homes and schools.
He detailed how 60% of abusive priests eluded punishment, and how many were systematically moved to other parishes in the hope their crimes could be hushed up.
The government-appointed envoy for sexual abuse of children, Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, urged the church to pay compensation to the victims. He also said it should give state authorities access to its archives to allow state prosecutors to examine every allegation.
The first case of sexual abuse in the Catholic church in Germany was uncovered about 10 years ago. Critics say the church has not done enough to prevent further clerical abuse.
Church leaders are under pressure to announce reforms before the end of the four-day conference on Thursday.
The report was compiled using data collected from 27 German dioceses, and included 38,000 mostly anonymous documents. But the authors, who were appointed by the church and spent four years working on the report, said they were not allowed access to any original files from the church’s own archives and that the files from at least two dioceses had been manipulated or destroyed.
Christian Pfeiffer, a criminologist tasked with carrying out the study in 2011, said the church had made itself “untrustworthy” by not allowing full access to its archives. He has complained about alleged censorship and a lack of transparency on the part of the church.
Matthias Katsch, the co-founder of Eckigen Tisch, a pressure group representing victims, who oversaw the compilation of the study as an adviser, said while some bishoprics had cooperated thoroughly, others had not. “The academics involved worked to the best of their ability with a lack of resources, to extract something out of the available information,” he told Der Spiegel.
The study found that more than half of the victims had been younger than 13 the first time they were abused, and that 83% of attacks were planned, taking place most commonly in the private or service flats of those carrying out the abuse.
On average, the abuses happened multiple times over a period of at least 15 months.
Almost 1,000 of the victims were altar boys. Every sixth attack involved rape.
Among the well-documented scandals that have rocked the church in Germany is the systematic abuse of pupils by two priests at the fee-paying Jesuit school Canisius in Berlin in the 1970s and 80s, and the sexual and physical abuse suffered by more than 500 choir boys at the Regensburger Domspatzen school in Regensburg, Bavaria. The choir was led by Georg Ratzinger – the brother of the former Pope Benedict XVI – for 30 years until 1994, but he denied knowing about any abuse.
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