German Church Faces Child Abuse Charges

The New York Times/February 10, 2010

Berlin - The Roman Catholic Church faces yet another child abuse scandal, this time in Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany.

The widening public scandal began last month with allegations that three priests at the elite Canisius Jesuit high school in Berlin had sexually abused students in the 1970s and ’80s. In the midst of a steadily growing uproar over the handling of that case, the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article last weekend that said nearly 100 clerics and laypeople had been suspected of abusing children and teenagers nationwide since 1995.

The rector of Aloisiuskolleg, a high school in Bad Godesberg, an affluent neighborhood in the former capital of Bonn where diplomats and leading politicians lived, resigned Monday over accusations that he was aware of sexual misconduct by teachers at the school. And on Tuesday a local newspaper, the Aachener Zeitung, reported new accusations of sexual abuse against two priests in the diocese in Aachen.

"The subject of sexual abuse will be a topic at the plenary meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference," said Nina Schmedding, a spokeswoman for the group, on Tuesday.

Many of the cases now coming to light are unlikely to be prosecuted because the statute of limitations requires crimes to be reported within 10 years of the victim’s 18th birthday. But the revelations have driven an open debate here on the church, its policies for dealing with abuse cases - or, critics say, covering them up - and even the vows of celibacy taken by priests.

Germany is home to roughly 25.2 million Catholics, according to the German Bishops’ Conference, but that number has fallen by more than three million since German reunification in 1990.

The abuse of children by members of the clergy remains one of the most difficult issues for the church. In December the Vatican accepted the resignations of several Irish bishops after a report by the Irish government detailed the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children by Catholic priests in church-run residential schools, many of them run by the Christian Brothers.

The report found that both the Catholic hierarchy and Irish state agencies covered up complaints by 320 Irish children who said they were abused by priests between 1974 and 2004.

On Monday at the Vatican, Benedict told members of the Pontifical Council for the Family that he condemned the abuse of children by members of the clergy, but he has not commented directly on the situation in Germany.

Der Spiegel said that at least 94 clerics and laypeople had been suspected of abuse since 1995, based on a poll of 27 of Germany’s 30 Catholic dioceses.

The magazine’s cover this week was illustrated with an image of a priest reaching suggestively under his robes.

"Already a tremor is shaking the church, which could be the beginning of an earthquake" Der Spiegel said.

Franz Kretschmann, a spokesman for the diocese in Aachen, said there were two cases under police investigation, one against a teacher working for the church and one against a clergyman, and the two new additional internal investigations against priests. Since 1995, two clergymen in the diocese have been convicted on molestation charges.

The diocese has had a special representative since 2003 to deal with abuse accusations. "We are working for a transparent proceeding with the swiftest possible solution, also in the interest of the victims and their families," Mr. Kretschmann said.

Irish Victims Write to Pope

DUBLIN (AP) - Irish victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy have written to Pope Benedict XVI asking him to take responsibility for the church’s concealment of child molestation by forcing out bishops implicated in the decades of cover-up.

Their plea comes one week before a special Vatican summit meeting involving the pope and Ireland’s bishops to prepare a response to scandals in the Irish church. Three bishops have already offered to resign. The letter’s writers urge Benedict to write to all the people of Ireland, "accepting fully the harm that has been caused" by child-abusing priests, nuns and brothers.

Victor Homola contributed reporting from Berlin, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome.

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