German bishop ‘who beat orphans’ resigns
by Roger Boyes, Berlin
The resignation of the conservative Bishop of Augsburg – accused of thrashing orphans with a carpet beater – has given a powerful boost to reformers in the German Catholic Church who are trying to stop the mass desertion of believers.
It took almost three weeks to persuade the controversial bishop, Walter Mixa, 68, to step down and restore the credibility of the Church as it attempts to tackle and contain the growing scandal of physical and sexual abuse of children in its care.
The bishop is a close ally of Pope Benedict XVI and he had evidently counted on papal support as he stood firm against claims from at least six former pupils at a Catholic-run orphanage in Bavaria. At an Easter service he declared that he had a "clean heart."
Yesterday evening he surrendered.
" I beg forgiveness from all those to whom I may have been unfair, from all those to whom I have caused anxiety, " the bishop said.
A special investigator and a Munich lawyer are now investigating the claims against him. He has also been accused of using church funds to buy artworks.
The resignation of the bishop – part of a conservative axis that includes Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg and Cardinal Joachim Meisner in Cologne – is the culmination of a power struggle in the hierachy.
Conservative clergy have been trying to maintain a strict boundary between church and state – and thus resist the meddling of state prosecutors in the abuse scandals.
For them church power still rests on its ability to keep its secrets and thus its authority over believers.
Reformers such as the Bishop of Fulda, Heinz Josef Algermissen, have been pressing for a more open institutional investigation.
"It is a relief for the Catholic Church in Germany. It had become a heavy burden," said Alois Glueck, chairman of the Central Council of Catholics yesterday.
The resignation of the bishop was a personal tragedy for Bishop Mixa, he said. "A more open approach from the start could perhaps have led to a different outcome."
The resignation may have come just in time for the Church. One opinion poll shows that 45 per cent of German Catholics believe that the Pope is doing a bad job.
Many parishes are reporting large numbers of their flock officially renouncing their religion – one in five Catholics in Germany says he or she is considering leaving the church.
The number of Catholics in Germany has dropped from 28 million in 1991 to 25 million in 2009, with the steepest decline since the Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger assumed the papacy.
Bishop Mixa was for many younger Catholics a symbol of what was wrong.
He seemed to enjoy high-level protection and certainly seemed free to make outspoken comments about society in and out of the pulpit.
He has railed against the German Government for making "birth machines" out of women. Its plans to expand the creche network and allow women to return to work smacked, he said, of East German communist practices.
He compared abortion to the Holocaust – a particularly shocking statement when made by a senior cleric in Germany. He also accused Israel of racism in its treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and saId it was setting up ghettoes.
His view of the latest child abuse scandal sweeping the Cchurch was characteristically pugnacious. "The sexual revolution of the 1960s is at least partly to blame for this," he said.
The bishop has not been accused of sexual molestation. Former residents of the Schrobenhausen children’s home claim that they were beaten by him with a wooden spoon until it broke, with a carpet beater, or punched hard on the upper arm where bruises would not be visible.
The special investigators acting on behalf of the victims are having to decide whether this kind of physical abuse should be designated an unfortunate normality in the church and state school systems of the 1970s and 1980s, or whether it should be treated as part of a spectrum of abuse that included sexual assault.
Some victims from that era say that the violent atmosphere in the classrooms of that period allowed sexual abuse to flourish.
"The paedophiles were often the 'good ones'," an Austrian playwright said recently. "They were the ones who treated us, however perversely, as individuals and understood our home sickness."
That was one reason why child victims – who understood that they were being violated – did not denounce their teachers, even after they had left school.
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