In the ongoing story of clerical abuse in Ireland, what set this country apart from all the others where abuse has been uncovered, was the thoroughness of the church’s (belated) own Ryan Report last, year, and then the exhaustive government investigation into cover-ups by the diocese of Dublin, culminating in the Murphy report in November. The impact of that report, in Ireland and elsewhere, left me wondering how it would be if other countries were to follow the example of the Irish. (Even at the time of that report, there were calls for an expansion into other Irish dioceses, and into Northern Ireland by the UK government. That pressure will not have been eased by the dissatisfaction at the Vatican meeting with the Irish bishops.) Now it seems that Germany may follow a similar path. For weeks, there have been a series of news reports of abuses, over several decades, at a Jesuit church school in Berlin. But reports are now emerging of other problems in other cities too, and for other religious orders as well. It seems that the more the press digs into this story, the more there is to find – and the more willingly former victims are coming forward to shed more light on the past. Now, church organisations are calling for full disclosure from the church – and German politicians are starting to join in. If the German Church does indeed decide to launch its own Murphy style investigation, they will inevitably find the same Irish and American style cover –ups, as these were clearly mandated in directives from the CDF. Then, after the Germans, how many other nations might follow?
The weekly Der Spiegel, in its issue to appear on Monday, quoted Education Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger as saying she wanted the Church to take "concrete steps" to this end. She proposed a meeting with government representatives, the Church and victims of abuse to discuss possible compensation
Details of the allegations reported in US and British media have been sketchy, but this English language report from inside Germany is detailed and horrifying. From Der Spiegel:
The Catholic Church in Germany has been shaken in recent days by revelations of a series of sexual abuse cases. Close to 100 priests and members of the laity have been suspected of abuse in recent years. After years of suppression, the wall of silence appears to be crumbling. This is what it looks like, the document of a conspiracy: 24 pages, with appendix, in Latin, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. A "norma interna," or confidential set of guidelines for all bishops, who were required to keep it a secret for all eternity, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. According to the instructions from Rome, the bishops were to deal very firmly with each individual case - so firmly, in fact, that everything would remain within the confines of the HolyChurch. After all, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- formerly known as the Inquisition - has centuries of experience in conducting internal investigations. The Vatican has always filled all the positions in such investigations - prosecutors, defendants, judges - from within its own ranks, while the investigation files have been kept in the secret archives of the Roman Curia.
(For a discussion of the content and significance of this document, see at “Queering the Church”. At the time that its existence was discovered and reported in the press, the Vatican claimed that it was out f date, and had been replaced. However, a much later document from Cardinal Ratzinger, then at the CDF , placed the same emphasis on secrecy.) For the details of the actual allegations, read the full report. Vatican responses to the Irish problems have consistently attempted to portray it as a local governance problem. However, there have also been widespread problems across the United States, and problems also in Germany, Canada, the UK, Italy, Austria, Australia and South Africa – and these are just the ones I know of off the top of my head. I suspect that the major difference between countries is not the prevalence of abuse, but just how much has so far been uncovered. The German pattern seems to be following much the same path as the early days of the exposure in the US, while the German Bishop’s internal guidelines on responding to the problem are entirely consistent with the pattern laid down by the Vatican decades ago – and the pattern displayed elsewhere.
Code of Secrecy But upon closer inspection, even these guidelines are pervaded by the Church's way of thinking, as affirmed by the Holy See in 1962 under Pope John XXIII and once again in 2001. According to those guidelines, which remain in force today, potential cases of abuse must be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The guidelines also forbid bishops worldwide from taking any steps beyond an initial investigation of accusations without direct instructions from Rome. The entire procedure is subject to "pontifical secrecy," the second-highest level of secrecy within the Holy See. Anyone who violates this code of secrecy without papal permission can be punished. The guidelines of the German Bishops' Conference are worded accordingly and emphasize the primacy of discreet internal investigations. Before making a decision, each bishop must first consider ways to protect the reputation of the priest and theChurch. When Rome takes over the investigations, some abuse cases can be quietly dealt with in secret trials. Based on its own canonical law, the German Catholic Church does not feel obligated to immediately report cases of abuse within its own ranks to the German authorities, so that the authorities can conduct house searches, for example. Critics say that theChurch is exposing itself to charges of obstruction of justice, as long as the clergy handles cases purely on an internal basis. Critical Catholic groups have long sought to change the Bishops' Conference guidelines, but to no avail. Bernd Göhrig, the executive director of a group called theChurch from Below, calls for the establishment of independent ombudsmen to address the concerns of the victims, instead of the biased representatives of the diocese. This is probably the only viable option, given that the German bishops are as reluctant to address the issue of prohibited sex as the German pope. Even after the massive abuse scandal in the United States in 2002, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of the southwestern German city of Mainz and the head of the German Catholic Church at the time, felt no particular need to take action. "We don't have a problem of the same dimension (as in the American Church)," he told Spiegel in an interview at the time. In his diocese, he said, anyone who "is truly a pedophile is immediately removed from pastoral service." These kinds of people, he said, could "not simply be transferred to a different location." Only a few weeks later, however, Lehmann was confronted with a new case of abuse inside his own diocese, in a parish near Darmstadt. A few months earlier, parents in a small city near Frankfurt had discovered, to their dismay, that the new director of their children's choir, Father E., was the same man who had been forced to leave his previous parish because of questionable relationships with minors. Lehmann's system had already shuffled the priest around several times from one location to another.
Critical Catholic groups have long sought to change the Bishops' Conference guidelines, but to no avail. Bernd Göhrig, the executive director of a group called theChurch from Below, calls for the establishment of independent ombudsmen to address the concerns of the victims, instead of the biased representatives of the diocese. This is probably the only viable option, given that the German bishops are as reluctant to address the issue of prohibited sex as the German pope.
These German instructions are clearly based on two Vatican documents to bishops worldwidem one of them produced by Cardinal Ratzinger himself. I would like to remind Pope Benedict of a fundamental principle of Catholic theology familiar to me from primary school. It is always possible to obtain forgiveness for sin, but there can be no absolution before confession, repentance and reparation. In the case of abuse, reparation is not possible - but when will we hear from him a confession of his own role in the decades long mishandling of this? Where will this end?