Catholic Sex Abuse in Germany

It happened in America. It happened in Ireland. Now, it seems that another major Catholic sex abuse scandal is about to break open – this time in Germany (HT: Butterflies and Wheels).

As the German newspaper Der Spiegel reports, the pattern we’re now seeing from abuse victims who’ve come forward is very much the same as we’ve seen in other countries – sexual predators among the priesthood whose proclivities were well known to the church higher-ups, but who were quietly shuffled from parish to parish rather than turned over to law enforcement, enabling them to continue preying on innocents:

For decades, German bishops tried to look the other way when their pastors engaged in sexual abuse, as well as to downplay the problem by characterizing it as isolated incidents. Now they are finally revealing their own figures, though hesitantly. According to a SPIEGEL survey of Germany’s 27 dioceses conducted last week, at least 94 priests and members of the laity in Germany are suspected or have been suspected of abusing countless children and adolescents since 1995. A total of 24 of the 27 dioceses responded to SPIEGEL’s questions.

…With at least 94 suspects uncovered nationwide so far, the church’s official line that cases of abuse are just isolated incidents no longer holds water. The abusers include not only priests, but also include lay workers for the church, such as sextons, choir directors, employees of church charities and youth program volunteers.

As the article notes, the cover-up went straight to the top of the Catholic hierarchy – dating back to an order from the Vatican that sex abuse by priests be kept a secret and the matter be handled internally within the Church.

The guidelines, issued in the year of our Lord 1962, address a sensitive subject: sex in the confessional. The Vatican doesn’t put it quite that directly, preferring to use more guarded terminology to describe what happens when a priest leads a member of his flock astray before, during or after the confession — in other words, when he provokes a penitent “toward impure and obscene matters” through “words or signs or nods of the head (or) by touch.”

…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.

Ostensibly, this is to protect the sanctity of the confessional. But the actual effect is that the Catholic church acted as though it was above the law, refusing to contact the authorities even when there was evidence that a serious crime had been committed. Usually, the church didn’t even enact any serious discipline of its own against the offender. In fact, it seems the only people who were punished in any way were the ones who tried to bring the matter to light:

“If you are forced, by virtue of your profession, to live a life without a wife and children, there is a great risk that healthy integration of sexuality will fail, which can lead to pedophile acts, for example,” theologian Hans Küng wrote in SPIEGEL in 2005. “In addition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it would make sense for Rome to establish a Congregation for the Doctrine of Love, which would examine every decree issued by the Curia to ensure that it is in keeping with the Christian concept of love.”

His fellow theologian Eugen Drewermann writes of a “church structure that is repressive in emotional areas and on questions of love.” Because of these and similar views, the Vatican has revoked both theologians’ permission to teach.

As I wrote in a comment on Butterflies and Wheels, the laws of probability alone virtually guarantee that there are scandals like this waiting to come to light in many more countries. Perhaps prosecutors should begin investigating in France, in Italy, in Poland… It’s almost impossible to believe that there’s nothing else to be found.

But regardless, this story has punched another hole in the Catholic church’s flimsy pretext of being able to speak with moral authority to the rest of us. They are a whited sepulcher, whose ornate facade conceals only moral rot and corruption within, and a cabal of wicked old men more concerned with preserving their own power than with any harm they allowed to be inflicted on innocents. They do not deserve the continued allegiance or support of any thinking person.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    I once read a book which suggested that the “reforms” of Pope Gregory (I can’t recall the number, but this is the one responsible for the Gregorian calendar) that banned priests from getting married or “keeping house” with a woman may have affected the Church in a dangerous way. The author wrote that married men are actually MORE likely to bring their troubles to a woman, so they can get advice from a different perspective. The author suggested that the absence of a balance of the sexes led to the later decadence of the Church and the sexual abuse occurring today. This is why the rule on celibacy MUST be overturned. This is a psychological wound, centuries old. Another (mildly eugenic, he admits) proposal is that since the best and brightest were usually the ones who became priests or nuns, they may’ve accidentally delayed the Renaissance by never having children.

  • Valhar2000

    As the article notes, the cover-up went straight to the top of the Catholic hierarchy – dating back to an order from the Vatican that sex abuse by priests be kept a secret and the matter be handled internally within the Church.

    This wouldn’t have been so bad if the cases had actually been handled; all they did, as was parodied in an episode of Southpark, was study ways in which they could protect the rapists and keep the damn kids quite!

  • Brock

    Katie– personally I have no argument with the rule on celibacy. Any archaic notion that speeds the demise of the church deserves to be kept around. What we do need are tight, secular controls on the actions of the priesthood, for the protection of their parishioners, swift secular response to cases of abuse, and an understanding that the laws of the nation in which a priest resides take precedence over the dictates of the Unholy See. By the way, a large part of the priesthood in the middle ages was made up of younger sons of the nobility, who, because of primogeniture, were ineligible to inherit anything from their father. Whether this constituted the best and the brightest is something that I would take with a grain or three of salt.

  • Katie M

    Okay, just did some research, apparently the Gregory I was talking about was not the one who reformed the calendar. I’m sorry.

    Brock-I understand your point of view regarding celibacy, but my feeling is that involuntary celibacy is unhealthy and leads people to vent their sexual frustrations in ways that are unacceptable to mainstream society. I guess my question is this-would the sexual abuse be occurring on such a large scale if the priests were allowed to have wives and children (or in the case of homosexual priests, allowed to have partners)? I’m inclined to say no.

  • Rick M

    “If you are forced, by virtue of your profession, to live a life without a wife and children, there is a great risk that healthy integration of sexuality will fail, which can lead to pedophile acts, for example,” theologian Hans Küng wrote in SPIEGEL in 2005.

    Cart before the horse? This is just one sentence and perhaps Küng has a wider view on the causes of clerical pedophilia in the Roman Catholic church, but this statement ignores the possibility that a profession that forces celibacy may attract men with various sexual problems.

  • http://protostellarclouds.blogspot.com/ Mathew Wilder

    Didn’t you know that sexual abuse of children is the whole point of the Catholic Church. It’s true – Louis CK learned all about it! The sad thing is, as time goes on, it seems less and less farther from the truth.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VABSoHYQr6k

  • http://1939to1945.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    “…the Vatican has revoked both theologians’ permission to teach.”

    ROFLMAO.

    Has the Vatican tried that approach with PZ?

  • http://gastonjb2000@yahoo.com Brock

    I agree completely with your comment, Katie. I’m saying that as long as they have the rule of celibacy, we need tight controls on their ability to circumvent it. Perhaps they should follow the rule of Origen, and cut away those nasty bits that they supposedly have no reason to use. I’m thinking that in light of what we know now about human psychology, anyone foolish enough to enter a celibate order is probably no loss to the gene pool anyway.

  • Katie M

    “Perhaps they should follow the rule of Origen, and cut away those nasty bits that they supposedly have no reason to use.”

    Now THERE’S an idea if I ever heard one!

  • Jim

    There’s been numerous episodes of abuse here in Canada, such as the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s NL, operated by the exposed in the late eighties. Around 300 people came forward with tales of abuse. And there was the residential schools, some operated by the Catholic church.

    Here’s a fairly recent story about sex abuse by the priests around Antigonish, Nova Scotia;
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2009/08/07/ns-antigonish-settlement.html

  • Jim S

    I’m no lover of Catholicism, believe me; but it seems that all these revelations are about the CC. Does this sort of abuse not happen in other denominations? (If not, why not?) Why do we only hear about Catholic episodes?

  • Paul

    I’m no lover of Catholicism, believe me; but it seems that all these revelations are about the CC. Does this sort of abuse not happen in other denominations? (If not, why not?) Why do we only hear about Catholic episodes?

    Because as of yet, the Catholic Church is the only one we know of that has actively sheltered pedophiles, with the current Pope on record about their policy of moving priests to unsuspecting parishes with conspiracy to keep all mention inside the church.

    Other denominations have priests that rape children. They generally end up in jail, not in the Vatican where they cannot be prosecuted or extradited.


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