Munich Church hid abuse allegations for decades

A report on abuse by clergy in Pope Benedict’s former Archbishopric of Munich shows that at least 159 priests were suspected of sexual or physical abuse while the actual number is thought to be considerably higher.

The Local, Germany/December 4, 2010

Marion Westphal, the former judge who compiled the report for the Catholic Church from files and interviews of people who worked there, said files had been systematically destroyed over decades in order to hide the abuse.

The role of Pope Benedict XVI while archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982, could not be clearly defined, said Westphal, but she described the record keeping during that time as catastrophic.

After working through more than 13,200 files dating back to 1945, Westphal said church staff had focussed on preventing a scandal rather than on the problem of abuse itself.

There was indications of abuse in 365 files, despite what she said was a systematic attempt to cover up the problem, according to Der Spiegel on Saturday.

Only 26 cases of sexual abuse resulted in convictions of priests, she noted, but said that there was sufficient proof of such allegations against at least 17 more priests.

Two priests were convicted of other physical abuse charges, although Westphal said 36 other cases could have been proven.

Westphal said there were enormous holes in the record keeping of the bishopric, with some files such as convictions and reasons for transfers from the bishopric not even retained.

"We are dealing with extensive destruction of paperwork," she said.

In one case this included much information about the involvement of the Pope - then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger.

She said there was evidence in the files that he dealt with one case where a priest accused of sexual abuse was prevented from continuing to work as a priest.

Ratzinger wrote him a long letter explaining the reasons for this decision. But the poor state of the files means it cannot be determined whether any charges were pressed against him.

Westphal said she did not think this was likely to have been the case, but said that Ratzinger would probably not have dealt with that decision personally as such things were left to the vicar General.

The German parliamentary leadership has been debating whether to invite Pope Benedict to address the Bundestag during his visit next year, according to Bild newspaper.

Nobert Lammert, parliamentary president, from the Christian Democratic Union, referred to an invitation from 2006, to which the Vatican did not reply, as reason to invite Benedict to address parliament.

The first supporters of the idea have already started to speak out, according to the report, with Christian Social Union interior affairs expert Norbert Geis saying it would be a ‘huge honour’ for the parliament.

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