27 Nov 2010

Pope implicated in German abuse scandal, neglected to inform authorities of pedophile priest who went on to abuse more kids

The Local - Germany March 13, 2010

Pope helped priest accused of child abuse

AFP/The Local - The Pope has become embroiled in Germany's Catholic child sex abuse scandal after his former diocese confirmed he approved a decision to give church accommodation to a priest accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex.

The child sex abuse scandal currently rocking Germany has affected 19 of the country’s 27 Catholic dioceses, with new accusations almost daily from former school pupils and choir members.

Pope Benedict XVI, who spent much of his early church career in his home country of Germany, has actively spoken against paedophilia and made promises that accusations would be investigated wherever they arose. After a meeting on Friday with Germany's top Catholic cleric, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, he also approved moves to appoint a watchdog to prevent child sex abuse.

A large part of the scandal involves the protection of those accused of abuse, and their continued employment by the church.

Yet it emerged on Saturday that as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Friesing, the Pope supported an attempt to rehabilitate a priest within his own diocese.

Identified only as H., he had been accused of the sex abuse while in Essen, but moved to Munich for help.

“It was decided in 1980 to give H. accommodation in a rectory so that he could receive therapy. The archbishop [now Pope Benedict XVI] took part in this decision," a statement from the Munich and Friesing diocese said.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that H. was given spiritual duties to perform and no further wrongdoing was reported between 1980 and 1982, when Ratzinger moved to the Vatican.

But further sex abuse claims were made against the priest in 1985 – allegations so severe he was relieved of his duties and the secular authorities became involved.

A year later he was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence, later extended to five years, and fined 4,000 deutschmarks for sexually abusing minors. He was instructed to undergo therapy.

Yet he remained in the church and worked in a retirement home between 1986 and 1987 before becoming a curate and later a church administrator.

Although no further allegations have been made against him, in 2008 he was relieved of his duties in Garching and five months later was given different responsibilities, and was not allowed to work with young people.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung said he still works in the diocese today.

In a statement from the diocese, former vicar general Gerhard Gruber said, “The repeated employment of H. in priestly spiritual duties was a bad mistake. I assume all responsibility.”

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New York Times - March 12, 2010

Abuse Scandal in Germany Edges Closer to Pope


BERLIN — A widening child sexual abuse inquiry in Europe has landed at the doorstep of Pope Benedict XVI, as a senior church official acknowledged Friday that a German archdiocese made “serious mistakes” in handling an abuse case while the pope served as its archbishop.

The archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy. A subordinate took full responsibility for allowing the priest to later resume pastoral work, the archdiocese said in a statement.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he had no comment beyond the statement by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, which he said showed the “nonresponsibility” of the pope in the matter.

The expanding abuse inquiry had come ever closer to Benedict as new accusations in Germany surfaced almost daily since the first reports in January. On Friday the pope met with the chief bishop of Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishops Conference, to discuss the church investigations and media reports.

Problems in the German church have already come close to the pope, whose brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, 86, directed a choir connected to a boarding school where two former students have come forward with abuse claims. In an interview this week, Monsignor Ratzinger, who directed the choir from 1964 to 1994, said the accusations dated from before his tenure. He also apologized for slapping students.

At a news conference following a one-on-one meeting with Benedict on Friday, Archbishop Zollitsch said the pope was “greatly upset” and “deeply moved” by the abuse allegations, and had urged the German church to seek the truth and help the victims.

The meeting and news conference occurred before the statement from the Munich archdiocese.

Archbishop Zollitsch said the German church had vowed to investigate all allegations of abuse, encouraging victims to identify themselves even if the abuse happened decades ago. In recent weeks, hundreds of people who say they were abuse victims have come forward.

“The cases are growing every day,” said Thomas Pfister, a lawyer appointed by the German church to investigate abuse cases in the Ettal monastery boarding school in Bavaria. He said more than 100 people had contacted him so far.

“Every day I receive e-mails from around the world from people who have been abused,” Mr. Pfister said, adding that the school had posted his e-mail address on its Web site to encourage this. “There has been a very big silence. Now they want to have a voice.”

Experts said the scandals could undermine Benedict’s moral authority, especially because they cut particularly close to the pope himself. As head of the Vatican’s main doctrinal arm, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he led Vatican investigations into abuse for four years before assuming the papacy in 2005.

“What is at stake, and at great risk, is Benedict’s central project for the ‘re-Christianization’ of Christendom, his desire to have Europe return to its Christian roots,” said David Gibson, the author of a biography of Benedict and a religion commentator for Politicsdaily.com. “But if the root itself is seen as rotten, then his influence will be badly compromised.”

When a sex abuse scandal broke in Boston church in 2002, Pope Benedict — then Cardinal Ratzinger — was among the Vatican officials who made statements that minimized the problem and accused the news media of blowing it out of proportion.

But as the abuse case files landed on his desk at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his colleagues said he was deeply disturbed by what he learned. On his first visit to the United States as pope, Benedict met with abuse victims from Boston and said he was “deeply ashamed” by priests who had harmed children.

But victims’ advocates accuse the pope of doing little to discipline the bishops who permitted abusers to continue serving in ministry. The case in Munich, which was brought to the attention of the diocese by the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, was a result of “serious mistakes,” the archdiocese said in its statement.

In Munich case, a priest from Essen, “despite allegations of sexual abuse, and in spite of a conviction — was repeatedly assigned work in the sphere of pastoral care by the then-Vicar General Gerhard Gruber,” who worked under Benedict when he was the archbishop.

The priest, identified only with the initial “H,” was moved to Munich in January 1980, where he was supposed to undergo therapy, a decision that was taken “with the approval of the archbishop,” according to the archdiocese’s statement. Benedict was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

In June 1986, the priest was convicted of sexually abusing minors and given an 18-month suspended sentence with five years of probation, fined 4,000 marks and ordered to undergo therapy.

The former vicar general took full responsibility for the decision to reinstate the priest to pastoral work. “I deeply regret that this decision resulted in offenses against youths and apologize to all who were harmed by it,” he said, according to a statement posted on the archdiocese’s Web site.

There was immediate skepticism that Benedict, as archbishop, would not have known of the details of the case.

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington and became an early and well-known whistle-blower on sexual abuse in the church, said the vicar general’s claim was not credible.

“Nonsense,” said Father Doyle, who has served as an expert witness in sexual abuse lawsuits. “Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”

It is unclear how many cases have come to light. At the news conference, the archbishop said that the Bishops Conference had sent a questionnaire to dioceses to determine which kinds of abuse cases emerged, not how many, and was awaiting a response.

The scandal is not limited to Germany. This week, two dioceses in Austria suspended five priests pending investigations into allegations they had molested students. The church in the Netherlands has said it would open an investigation after more than 200 people came forward in recent weeks.

To many observers, the situation in Europe looked unsettlingly similar to that in the United States a decade ago, when a trickle of isolated abuse cases steadily grew into a widespread phenomenon that upended — and financially strained — many American dioceses.

But in Europe, unlike in common-law countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, defendants cannot sue the church for negligence.

“When this first started to break in the United States in the mid-to-late ’80s and our bishops went to Rome for help in dealing with it, they were basically told, ‘This is an American problem,’ ” said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law expert and emeritus dean of the Duquesne University School of Law.

“But human nature being human nature, it wasn’t logical to say this only exists in the common-law countries,” Mr. Cafardi added. “Our legal system brought it to light more quickly. In fact it’s not an American or common-law problem, it’s a human problem.”

Nicholas Kulish reported from Berlin, and Rachel Donadio from Rome. Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York, and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.

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Agence France-Presse - March 12, 2010

Pope named in new twist to German pedophile priest furor

By Gina Doggett | Agence France-Presse

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI once helped get housing for a clergyman suspected of child sex abuse, it emerged Friday, as the pontiff met the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany over a growing pedophile priest scandal.

Just hours after Archbishop Robert Zollitsch renewed an apology to victims of predator priests in Germany, Pope Benedict's former diocese of Munich confirmed a report that, as an archbishop in 1980, the pontiff approved housing for the priest, who was to undergo therapy.

The priest — identified only as H. — had been accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex, according to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

"It was decided in 1980 to give H. accommodation in a rectory so that he could receive therapy. The archbishop (Pope Benedict) took part in this decision," the German diocese of Munich and Freising said in a statement.

Six years later, the priest was given a suspended prison sentence for child sex offences. The archdiocese said he still works in Bavaria, with no known repeat violations.

The disclosure added to a widening scandal in Germany that had already come close to Pope Benedict's brother Georg Ratzinger, a former choirmaster.

The first revelations emerged in January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Among other boarding schools implicated is one attached to the Domspatzen ("Cathedral Sparrows"), Regensburg cathedral's thousand-year-old choir which was run for 30 years by the pope's older brother.

Ratzinger, 86, said on Tuesday that the alleged sexual abuse in the 1950s and 1960s — before his time — was "never discussed".

A proliferation of abuse scandals across Europe has prompted deep soul-searching among church leaders, not least in Germany where 19 of the 27 dioceses have been implicated in allegations.

Zollitsch said after meeting with the pope on Friday: "I want to repeat here in Rome the apology that I made two weeks ago." He also announced the creation of a watchdog to counter abuses.

Pope Benedict meanwhile defended priestly celibacy, calling it "the sign of full devotion" and of an "entire commitment to the Lord".

His comments came a day after Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schoenborn called for an unflinching examination of the possible roots of child sex abuse by priests, saying it should include the issue of celibacy.

Another of Austria's most senior clerics, the Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser, also said the church must ask itself whether celibacy is still an appropriate way of life for priests.

"Times have changed and society has changed," Kothgasser told ORF public television.

German Education Minister Annette Schavan has said there should be "zero tolerance" of child sex abuse.

Most of the priests concerned are not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago. But there have been growing calls for a change in the law and for the church to pay compensation.

Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 to condemn paedophilia among clergymen, and he has met with abuse victims in Australia and the United States.

In February, he met with top church officials in Ireland where a similar scandal was compounded by evidence that the hierarchy covered up for predators. The pope then called child abuse a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin".

In 2001, when Pope Benedict was head of the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, he ordered that paedophilia cases be reported to the Holy See, suspecting that many national hierarchies preferred to look the other way.

But earlier this week the pope's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said the German, Austrian and Dutch churches had acted swiftly and "decisively" to address their respective scandals.

He also noted that sexual abuse went far beyond church walls.

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The Vancouver Sun - March 13, 2010

Vatican says bid to link pope to abuse issue failed

By Gavin Jones, Reuters

VATICAN CITY, March 13 (Reuters) - The Vatican rallied around Pope Benedict on Saturday, dismissing suggestions he had tried to cover up priestly child abuse in Germany.

"It’s rather clear that in recent days there have been people who have searched — with notable tenacity in Regensberg and Munich — for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the question of the abuses," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

"To any objective observer, it’s clear that these attempts have failed."

The pope’s former diocese in Bavaria said on Friday he was involved in a decision in 1980 to move a priest there who was suspected of child abuse.

The pontiff — then Joseph Ratzinger — jointly agreed to the priest undergoing therapy at a rectory in the diocese of Munich and Freising, where he was archbishop from 1977 to 1981.

However, rather than sending the priest for therapy as had been agreed, the diocese’s then general vicar, Gerhard Gruber, assigned him to a Munich parish without restrictions. Gruber took full responsibility for the decision, the diocese said.

On Friday the head of Germany’s Catholic Church briefed journalists about the situation in Germany, where more than 100 reports have emerged of abuse at Catholic institutions, including one linked to the prestigious Regensburg choir run by the pope’s brother from 1964 to 1994.

With the pope being criticised for not having done more during his career to halt abuse, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power on Friday slashed the odds on him resigning to 3 to 1 from 12 to 1, following a "cascade of bets".

The Vatican defended the pontiff vigorously on Saturday, with Lombardi’s comments accompanying a separate interview by the Holy See’s official prosecutor, or "promoter of justice".

Monsignor Charles. J. Scicluna told the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire that accusations the pope had helped cover up abuse were "false and calumnious".

Lombardi said Canon (Church) rules for controlling and punishing abuse did not create the conditions for any cover up and were, on the contrary, vigorous and severe.

"It is right to remember that all of this was set up by cardinal Ratzinger when he was prefect of the Congregation," Lombardi said.

"His line has always been one of rigour and consistency in tackling even the most difficult situations."

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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The New York Times - March 13, 2010

Vatican Sees Campaign Against the Pope


ROME — As new details emerged on allegations of child sexual abuse by a priest in the Munich archdiocese then led by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican spoke out on Saturday against what it called an aggressive campaign against the pope in his native Germany.

At the same time, a high-ranking Vatican official overseeing internal investigations on Saturday acknowledged that 3,000 cases of suspected abuse of minors had come to its attention in the past decade, of which 20 percent had been brought to trial in Vatican courts.

In a note read on Vatican Radio on Saturday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was “evident that in recent days there are those who have tried, with a certain aggressive tenacity, in Regensburg and in Munich, to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse.” He added, “It is clear that those efforts have failed.”

In Germany, a man whose case has raised questions about the actions of the Munich Archdiocese when Benedict was the archbishop there said Saturday that church officials had told him that the priest who abused him in 1979 would not be allowed to work with children again. Instead, the priest was allowed to resume full duties almost immediately, and went on to abuse more children.

The Vatican also sought to defend the pope against criticism that a Vatican rule requiring secrecy in abuse cases was tantamount to obstruction of justice in civil courts.

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the director of a tribunal inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal arm, dismissed as “false and calumnious” accusations that Benedict covered up abuse cases when he oversaw investigations for four years as prefect of that congregation before becoming pope.

In a rare and unusually frank interview that appeared on the front page of L’Avvenire, the Italian Bishops Conference newspaper, on Saturday, Monsignor Scicluna acknowledged that the Vatican had received about 3,000 accusations of abuse by priests of minors in the past decade, 80 percent of them from the United States.

Although the number represented only those forwarded to the Vatican, most likely only a fraction of the total worldwide, Monsignor Scicluna’s comments were among the most revealing to date about how the Vatican handles these cases, and appeared intended to show that it was confronting the problem.

He said that about 300 priests had been accused of pedophilia in the past nine years. The cases involved both diocesan and other priests and concerned acts committed over the last 50 years, he said.

He said that 20 percent of priests had been tried by the church — mostly in local dioceses but sometimes in Rome — and that some had been acquitted.

Another 60 percent of the cases had not come to trial, largely because of the advanced age of the accused, he said. In those cases, he said the accused faced other “administrative and disciplinary provisions,” including being required to live in seclusion and prohibition from celebrating Mass and hearing confession.

In 10 percent of the cases, the pope dismissed the priests without a formal judicial process, and in the remaining 10 percent, the priests voluntarily stepped down.

Even in cases where “there has been no formal condemnation,” Monsignor Scicluna said, “no absolution has taken place.”

Although his statements were unusually forthcoming for the Vatican, they left open many questions, including whether the priests involved in cases that had not come to trial ever returned to pastoral work.

In the German case, a man who said he was sexually abused by a priest in Essen in 1979 said that when the abuse was reported, the church handled the accusation as an internal matter without notifying the police or prosecutors. In a telephone interview on Saturday, the victim, who asked to be identified as Wilfried F. to protect his anonymity, said the pastor forced him to perform oral sex.

Wilfried F. was 11 years old at the time. His case, and many of the new details on Saturday, were first reported in the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In the interview, he said the abuse occurred after a vacation trip to the Eifel mountains. He said the priest gave him alcohol, locked him in his bedroom, took off his clothes and molested him.

Although the matter was not reported to the police, he said church officials in Essen told him the priest had been transferred to Munich “and that he would no longer be allowed to work with children.”

The archdiocese said in a statement on Friday that the priest was moved to Munich in 1980 for therapy with the approval of Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, the man who later became Pope Benedict. But the priest was soon reassigned to pastoral work by Archbishop Ratzinger’s deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, and was later convicted of sexually abusing minors. “You see how they just kept moving him around,” Wilfried F. said. “He could keep doing it like before.”

The archdiocese has acknowledged making “serious mistakes” in handling the case. In a statement, the former vicar general took full responsibility for the decision to reinstate the priest to pastoral work.

The Vatican has said the pope was not involved in the decision.

In the interview on Saturday, Monsignor Scicluna also addressed accusations that the Vatican was obstructing justice by imposing secrecy on reports of abuse.

In 2001, Benedict, who was then in charge of Vatican investigations of abuse allegations, sent a letter to bishops counseling them to forward all such cases to his Doctrine of the Faith office, where they would be subject to secrecy.

Monsignor Scicluna dismissed the idea that secrecy was imposed “in order to hide the facts.” Rather, he said, it “served to protect the good name of all the people involved, first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right, as everyone does, to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”

But he said church secrecy had “never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities.”

Rachel Donadio reported from Rome, and Nicholas Kulish from Munich.

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