Organized Abuse in Germany

The  first example that I remember of the organized sexual abuse carried out by members of the Roman Catholic Church were the events at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland. These were publicized in late 1980s and early 1990s and resulted in criminal convictions and millions of dollars in court-imposed financial settlements.

Since then, the scandal has become worldwide with tens of thousands of victims coming forward and a recognition  among most people that the hierarchy of the church was complicit in covering up the abuse and continuing to allow clergy access to more victims.

There is currently a battle in Germany between the church and an independent investigation into the scope of the abuse.  The Church has decided that the investigation, led by criminologist Christian Pfeiffer, is being too intrusive in his requests for church documents.

Mr. Pfeiffer told German Radio that the bishops wanted to change previously agreed-upon guidelines for the project to include a final veto over publishing its results, which he could not accept.

Officials made “an attempt to turn the whole contract towards censorship and stronger control by the church,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, head of the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony.

Of course, the Bishops claim that protecting privacy is their primary concern.

Speaking to German Radio, Bishop Ackermann said the bishops feared that Mr. Pfeiffer would publish results without their permission. “We weren’t trying to hold things back,” he said. “We want a similar project to go ahead.”

The Church wants to prevent an independent investigator from publishing information that might be harmful to their image. However, the Bishops did release their own report that was damning towards their own organization.

A report about child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, based on victim accounts and released by the church this week, showed that priests carefully planned their assaults and frequently abused the same children repeatedly for years.

While this seems like a recognition of wrongdoing, it is important to note that the report drew upon calls to a victims hotline and does not contain any individually verified information.  Bishop Stephan Ackermann told reporters that the report demonstrated the Church’s intention for an open investigation, which seems to be countered by their desire for a lack of accountability in Pfeiffer’s investigation.  There is no mention in the NY Times article of whether any priests were named or how those incidents were handled by the Church.

The Church continues to respond to these charges of abuse with obfuscation and deflection. I have yet to read of a single instance where a priest came forward of his own volition and admitted guilt before he was ‘outed’ in a criminal investigation. For example,  Bishop Raymond Lahey of Nova Scotia, was caught with child porn on his computer as he returned to Canada from a visit to Thailand. Even then, he did not plead guilty, and his defence asked for the minimum possible sentence. Internally, he was not stripped of his clerical status within the church until after his conviction.

I do not wish in any way to minimize the effects of this abuse on the victims, in the lives lost and destroyed by the actions of these priests. Many in the Church are recognizing this. What the church still fails to understand is that the true scandal is not the acts of the individual priests, but the support they gave and continue to give to these predators. If the Church really wanted to show their commitment to ending the abuse and beginning the process of moving forward, they would publicly strip abusers of their robes and turn them over to state authorities. These would be the moral responses to activities such as these.

As long as they continue to protect their own, no one will believe they are serious about helping others, and many of us will consider any proclamation of moral authority by this organization to be a pack of total lies.

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