German cardinal asks abuse victims for forgiveness
By ANDREA M. JAUCH and MELISSA EDDY
The Associated Press
MUNICH -- The archbishop of Munich and Freising begged forgiveness on Friday for "everything those working for the church have done" as he presented a report that showed over 250 priests and religion teachers abused children in a diocese that was once presided over by Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who commissioned the report, said the Roman Catholic Church in Germany would have to work to regain the trust that has been lost since reports of abuse at the hands of German priests broke earlier this year.
"We want to learn from our bad mistakes and misconduct of the past," Marx said. "And as archbishop, I also ask for forgiveness in the name of the Church for everything that those working for the church have done."
Attorney Marion Westphal has been tasked with examining some 13,200 documents from the diocese, spanning from 1945 to 2009, for the report. She said at a press conference Friday that she had found instances of abuse among 159 priests, but underlined that "we must assume the real number is much higher" given that countless documents that are believed to have served as evidence of wrongdoing were missing or appeared to have been purposely destroyed.
"We were faced, in researching the documents, with a far-reaching case of destruction and found that many documents were not stored in the bishop's office and displayed clear indications of manipulation," Westphal said.
Of those priests determined to have been abusive, some 26 were cases of a sexual nature, all of which were prosecuted according to church regulations at the time, she said. None of the priests were still alive. The remainder of the abuse cases were physical.
In addition, the report found 96 religion teachers commissioned by the diocese to hold classes on Roman Catholicism in regional schools were abusive, only one of them sexually.
Westphal said the report revealed no further information regarding the case of the Rev. Peter Hullermann, who was transferred to the diocese following sexual abuse of minors elsewhere. Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, was archbishop at the time.
She further underlined that it was largely the responsibility of the general vicar, and not the archbishop, to make decisions regarding the movement of priests.
The future pope served as archbishop of the diocese from 1977-1981.
The report also focused on how the church could move forward in dealing with reported cases of abuse, by following new guidelines and making sure that all documents are digitized and held in a central archive.
The archbishop's plea for forgiveness was dismissed by a group of abuse victims.
"Forgiveness happens after a crisis passes. This crisis, however, is current," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "No one in his right mind believes that all German child molesting clerics have been suspended, convicted and jailed. Nor does anyone believe we all know the full truth about and extent of decades of abuse and cover up within the church," she said in a statement.
Eddy reported from Berlin.
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Monsters and Critics - December 3, 2010
Sexual abuse cases systematically covered up by church, study shows
Munich - Germany's Catholic church systematically covered up cases of sexual abuse within its own ranks for several decades, according to an expert study of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, presented Friday.
The lawyer commissioned by the Archdiocese to conduct the study, Marion Westphal, said its records revealed huge gaps between 1945 and 2009.
Westphal described a 'systematic system of cover-up,' in which few abuse cases were criminally prosecuted.
'Only 26 priests were convicted for sexual offences,' Westphal added.
'We have to assume there is a large unknown number (of abuse cases),' the lawyer said. 'We are dealing with the extensive destruction of files.'
She said the records were also severely lacking during the years of 1977 to 1982, when the diocese was led by Archbishop Josef Ratzinger - who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
During this period, she only found a single document, regarding an abuse case that Ratzinger himself had dealt with, Westphal said. The file contained a letter from Ratzinger, insisting that an abusive priest be removed from his parish.
Westphal said church employees destroyed records of abuse cases because they were more concerned with avoiding a scandal than protecting the victims.
The study involved more than 13,200 files, of which 365 contained evidence that 'acts of abuse had taken place in an almost commonplace manner,' Westphal said.
These cases implicated 159 priests as well as 15 deacons, 96 religion teachers and six pastoral employees. Rural areas were particularly affected, the lawyer said.
Some of the files were stowed away in private apartments, others were locked away in places that few had authority to access. Criminal verdicts were not included in the files out of principle.
In many cases the victims' suffering could only be guessed at, Westphal said, as the files described reported abuse in evasive language.
She insisted the church had given her free rein in her research.
Munich's Archbishop Reinhard Marx said this year's revelations of sexual abuse by clerics had come as a shock.
'For me, these were surely the worst months of my life. I felt shame, grief and dismay,' Marx said.
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