For a long time German Catholics could watch the sex abuse scandals involving priests unfold in the US and Ireland and feel smug in the knowledge that such crimes could never take place in Germany. But this is no longer the case:
German news magazine Der Spiegel reported over the weekend that at least 10 church employees currently face accusations of sexual abuse.
The magazine said more than 94 clerics and laymen have been suspected of sexual abuse since 1995. But only 30 of those suspects had actually been prosecuted, the report said, because of legal time constraints on pursuing cases.
The latest reports come amid a widening scandal of serial sex abuse by Catholic priests in Germany.
As was the case in Ireland and the US, the church hierarchy was evidently aware of the abuses but chose to cover them up rather than bring the offending clergy to justice: they were simply transferred to other parishes where they could sexually abuse other children.
In an interview with Father Dr. Hans Langendörfer, a Jesuit priest and secretary general of the Catholic Bishop's Conference, Der Spiegel asks the correct question:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Warum kommen solche Fälle gerade in der katholischen Kirche so oft vor? Welche Rolle spielen dabei Priestermangel und Zölibat?
Langendörfer: Es stimmt nicht, dass in der katholischen Kirche die Fälle "so oft" vorkommen. Ja, Missbrauchsfälle kommen bei uns vor und erschüttern uns. Aber wir wissen alle, dass jeder Ort, wo Erwachsene mit Kindern und Jugendlichen zusammenkommen - angefangen vom Sportverein - ein möglicher Tatort für Personen mit entsprechenden Neigungen ist. Die Mehrzahl der Missbrauchsfälle ereignet sich im engeren familiären Umfeld. Fälle, in denen Priester beteiligt sind, finden eine besondere Beachtung, zu Recht. Es wird ein spezielles Vertrauen missbraucht. In Bezug auf die Häufigkeit entsteht aber rasch ein falscher Eindruck. Weder Ehelosigkeit noch Priestermangel schaffen Missbrauchstäter.
(Spiegel: Why do cases like this occur so often in the Catholic Church? What role do celibacy and the shortage of priests play in this?
Langendörfer: It is wrong to say that such cases occur so ofen in the Catholic Church. Yes, we have cases of abuse and they are very disturbing. But we know that whenever adults come together with young people such crimes are always a possibilty - in sports groups for example. Most abuse cases take place in the immediate family. Cases where priests are involved receive much attention - justifiably so. A special bond of trust has been broken. But it is false to claim that this occurs with greater frequency. Neither the inability to marry nor the shortage of priests creates abusers of this sort.
Well, I challenge Father Langendörfer to point to a like number of sexual abuse cases in the Anglican church, where clergy certainly have the same contact with children. Also, I am not aware of any cases at all of sexual abuse involving female or gay Episcopal clergy (ordination of women or openly gay mean is forbidden in the Catholic Church).
Father Langendörfer's assertion has been forcefully refuted by Eugen Drewermann in his study of Catholic clergy: Kleriker: Psychogramm eines Ideals which I already discussed here. Drewermann sees the repressive celibacy requirement for priests as a contributing factor to deviant sexual behavior.
In a sick footnote to this widening scandal, the "Catholic" Holocaust-denial site kreuz.net compares the prosecution of Jesuit priests to the persecution of Jews in the Third Reich.