Sex abuse brush fires in Europe

European Catholics who may have hoped sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy was mostly a North American problem may be waking up to the widespread reality of this crisis. A sudden eruption of stories of abuse emerging from Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands must be reverberating unpleasantly for victims of abuse in the United States. The scandal has even extended to Pope Benedict. His brother Msgr. Georg Ratzinger served for 30 years as choirmaster at Domspatzen, a school that trains the elite boys' choir of the Regensburg Cathedral. Today he apologized to child victims of sexual and physical abuse at his former school even though he said he was unaware of the incidents of alleged sexual abuse.

In an interview with the German newspaper Neue Passauer Presse, Ratzinger said, "There was never any talk of sexual abuse problems and I had no idea that molestation was taking place."


"I'm deeply sorry for anyone whose spiritual or physical integrity was injured by abuse," said Msgr. Ratzinger. "Today, such things are condemned even more because of greater sensitivities. I also condemn them, and simultaneously ask pardon from the victims." I'm presuming (hoping) that by "such things" he is referring to "mere" corporal punishment of his school boys. More sordid details have already emerged from the past at the Regensburg Cathedral.

Though there is some indication that the church in Europe is determined not to repeat the mistakes made in the United States as the slow torture of the sex abuse crisis played out—stiff-arming prosecutions and avoiding culpability at all costs—with essentially no members of the hierarchy ever held accountable. But quicker efforts to confront the past and reform current structural deficiencies are probably not going to be enough to satisfy anyone, nor should they.

According to CNS:

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a senior German prelate and the Vatican's chief ecumenical official, said in an interview in La Repubblica that priestly sexual abuse must be punished and the church must take responsibility.

"Enough! We need serious housecleaning in our church," he said, adding that "the pope is certainly not standing idly by."

He called the sexual abuse of minors on the part of clergy "a criminal, shameful act and an inexcusable mortal sin."

Cardinal Kasper said, "The Holy Father is right in seeking clarity and demanding zero tolerance toward whoever is stained by such grave sins."

The leadership of the German bishops' conference will be meeting with Pope Benedict March 12 at the Vatican in a perviously scheduled visit that will now certainly be turned over to the rapidly developing sex abuse scandal. The pope already met in February with Irish bishops to discuss their abuse crisis after a scathing independent report accused the Irish church of maintaining a culture of secrecy for many years.

The pope was planning a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics regarding what he called the "heinous crime" of priestly sexual abuse. Cardinal Kasper now suggests that pastoral letter might be worth broadening because "such a difficult problem has emerged not only in Ireland, but in Holland, Germany and the United States, perhaps it deserves a more general analysis that applies to the universal church and not just a single nation."

I guess a pastoral letter couldn't hurt, but bewildered Catholics and people who have endured abuse at the hands of priests and their families need a lot more practical help than even the finest in pastoral platitudes can offer. That means money and therapy and a church that is willing to step forward and beg for forgiveness even as it institutes real change. All the nice words are not enough; there is much work still to do in changing attitudes, unraveling prejudices and practices and uncircling clerical wagons that will stand in the way of a true examination of conscience.

Just listen to Msgr. Ratzinger, who in his "apology" said that while he served at Domspatzen "there was a climate of discipline and rigor ... but also of human understanding, almost like a family." Some family, which tolerated slaps across the face and canings and remained silent about deviant sexual acts against children I can't even describe here without lighting up internet filters.

But behind these reports of abuse at German Catholic schools, Msgr. Ratzinger discerns "a certain animosity toward the church, and I see behind certain claims the intention to speak against the church," the beginning of a blaming-the-messenger strategy that served the church—which by the way, as I grasp the concept, stands for a bit more than just the clerical caste—so poorly in the United States as it confronted this problem.

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9 years ago
The state of Delaware in the United States is one of a very few states in the U.S. which has removed all criminal and civil statutes of limitation in regard to the sexual abuse of children - by anyone. It also legislated a two year civil window for previously time barred cases, again, by anyone. That window closed in July of 2009.

In a civil suit, unlike a criminal suit, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that the abuse happened. It is not on the accused individual or institution to prove innocence, at least in the United States.

Every victim of childhood sexual abuse should have a right to the pursuit of justice at the very least!

If Delaware can do it other states and other countries should be able to do it and hold sexual predators and any enabling institutions responsible, especially those institutions which chose to ignore their own internal laws.

I was privileged to testify before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in support of the 2007 Child Victims Law in Delaware.

No rules and no laws of any religious organization or denomination should be allowed to trump the laws of a civilized society where the protection of children is concerned.

The Roman Catholic Church should be held to the highest standard as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a Convention that by any objective standard it has grossly violated for decades.

Is it time to formalize those violations?

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware, USA
9 years ago
The following are a few of the books of Alice Miller that are particularly valuable for understanding the effect of child rearing practices on children.  She has a concept she calls "poisonous pedagogy" which she says is employed by parents and teachers  to manipulate and control children.  We instill humiliation, shame, fear and guilt as we are "training" children.  She includes permissiveness in child rearing as a poisonous pedagogy as well as physical discipline-hidden cruelty and the roots of violence.
"The Drama of the Gifted Child"  1979
"For Your Own Good"  1980
"Breaking Down the Wall of Silence  1990"
9 years ago
I am sickened by the continuing reports of child abuse in the church, but I am not surprised nor will I be surprised at further revelations in other countries.  In a sense the Catholic Church as a universal and ancient institution, is a microcosm of societies at large when we consider the phenomenon of child abuse.  It is time to go back to the work of Alice Miller, the psychologist who studied child abuse in depth.  She wrote psychobiographies of Hitler, Nietszche and others to illustrate the effect of childhood abuse and later adult pathological behavior.  While I don't aubscribe to all of her theories I think her concept of "the wall of silence" is of great importance.  The wall of silence is the metaphorical wall behind which society-academia, psychiatrists, clergy, politicians and member of the media -has sought to protect itself , denying the mind-destroying effects of child abuse.  (Wikipedia)
I know from my own experience in social work that this silence pervaded American society up until very recent times.  When I worked in the 50's and 60's , I attended and belonged to various child welfare organizations and did graduate work at two universities.  During all this time, I never ever heard a mention of child sexual abuse.  In Minnesota, where I lived at that time, the issue of physical abuse was beginning to be recognized  due largely to the pioneering work of Juvvenile Court Justice Archie Gingold and the scandal of a horrendous physical abuse of an adopted child.  It was not until 1974 that child sexual abuse was recognized as a type of child maltreatment by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974.  (Ireland which was very negligent in this area finally enacted a mandatory reporting law in 2001.) 
Finally, as a society we still do not know what to do with perpetrators.  In San Diego County we are mourning the murder/rapes of two teen aged girls.  The alleged abuser is a paroled sexual offender. 
The silence has been broken in the church.  We must hope and pray that this brokenness is not the impetus for ideologists to use to further their causes, but that the we the people of God  very seriously look at our cultures, particularly child rearing practices,in various countries, and see the issue of Child abuse in the context of history, law and child protective services.  The effort is not to excuse but to understand in order to better protect our innocent, vulnerable children.
9 years ago
It's the question at the Watergate hearings 'What did he know and when did he know it'.. it will not go away .. it's simple..go see Frost/Nixon movie and watch the interviews.. 3 hours of successful bluster and 5 minutes of truth will out.The Vatican handwriting will be on the wall for all to see.
lori ranner
9 years ago
Right on. My husband was a student and member of the Domspatzen in the 1980's, and he scoffed at Ratzinger's characterization of the boarding school as a ''family.'' He also mentioned that in choir rehearsals, Ratzinger (or ''Der Chef'' - ''The Boss'' - as he was known), often bemoaned the criminalization of corporal punishment.  
9 years ago
Good post.  The church needs to make real changes, not just apologize.  I wish I could say I thought that was going to happen, and I wish I knew what I could do to help make that happen, aside from just quitting the church..
Jim McCrea
9 years ago
Smug, arrogant clericalism will only be humbled by repeated exposes of that which senior ecclesiastics have tried to hide and which give lie to all of the bulllloney that they have foisted on the "little people" who have been told that Father Knows Best and these problems are because of a "loss of faith" (by - guess who) and a lack of orthodoxy.
"Clerical culture, the ecclesial world in which priests and bishops live, is a natural enough phenomenon. However, when it breeds clericalism, as it often does, it takes on a destructive force that compromises honest and effective pastoral leadership and ministry. Moreover, clericalism closes clerical eyes to the Church’s ongoing need for renewal and reform. In this sense, clerical culture is a culture of secrecy and denial. Once drawn into its web, a cleric finds it is difficult to keep his priorities straight. He becomes like the storied medieval cardinal who bragged: 'I only lie in the best interests of the Church.' ”     Donald Cozzens, “Culture that Corrodes”, The Tablet, 5 December 2009
9 years ago

In a press release today by the Holy See's Director Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ ''concerning cases of the sexual abuse of minors in ecclesiastical institutions,'' Lombardi parrots the Holy See's historical response to the church's widening problems of sexual abuse, particularly the sexual abuse of minor children.

The response continues to be re-active rather than pro-active while minimizing the systemic and endemic abuse of power and authority which has enabled and exacerbated it on the one hand while covering it up whenever and wherever possible on the other.

The ''wide-ranging context'' is that in countries from the United States, Canada, Australia and Ireland to Austria, the Netherlands and Germany church authorities have repeatedly and consistently disregarded its own moral and Canon laws as well as the existing laws of the countries in which these horrific crimes against humanity occurred.

Lombardi does not mention nor does he admit to the well documented widespread cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by bishops and other church officials in many countries like the United States, that makes the church's sexual abuse problems particularly egregious. If church authorities had done the morally right thing initially how many children would have escaped sexual abuse by a particular priest?

When are people of good will going to say, Enough!

When are the leaders and legislators going to change the laws so that justice can be pursued for the thousands upon thousands of victims of childhood sexual abuse who have been unable to access let alone obtain justice?

In most states and probably in most countries existing criminal as well as civil laws give more protection to sexual predators and their enablers then they do to victims of childhood sexual abuse - by anyone. This is deplorable and should not be. The removal of all statutes of limitation in regard to the sexual abuse of children is the single, most effective way to hold predators and enabling institutions accountable before the law.


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