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.

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