Saturday, March 20, 2010

German industrial city of Essen was accused of sexually abusing three boys in 1979....


NOT long after a portly, jovial priest in the German industrial city of Essen was accused of sexually abusing three boys in 1979, he was offered a new home in Munich by Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.

Ratzinger, who was Archbishop of Munich and Freising at the time, wanted Father Peter Hullermann — known to friends in the church as “Hulli” — to undergo psychotherapy.

A psychiatrist quickly concluded that Hullermann was untreatable, however.

“I told the church officials that Hullermann must never be allowed to work with children again,” said Werner Huth, the psychiatrist, in an interview with The Sunday Times this weekend.
“He did not seem to want or be able to co-operate fully during the therapy. He had an alcohol problem and the assaults on the children mostly happened when he had been under the influence of alcohol.”

Huth’s warning was ignored. The priest was allowed to return to pastoral work and then to teach religion in a local state school.

Soon, he was in trouble again. He drank, showed pornographic videos to boys and abused them. He was convicted of the sexual abuse of minors and fined.

Even that was not the end of his time in the church. After a period of probation he continued working — with altar boys, among others.

He was still working as a priest right up until last Monday when, at the age of 62, he was suspended from his duties at a Bavarian tourist resort for breaching a church order in 2008 to avoid any involvement with children.

This unholy saga, reflecting both the severity of clerical abuse and the failure to stop it, goes to the heart of the gravest crisis the Roman Catholic church has faced since the wartime Pope Pius XII was accused of responding inadequately to the Holocaust.

It also raises questions about Pope Benedict’s responses to mounting allegations of paedophilia in the church. According to a report in Der Spiegel, the German magazine, Benedict knew about the allegations against Hullermann in 1980 but chose not to report them to the police.

DECADES of abuse allegations — first in private, then, increasingly, in public — culminated this weekend in a letter of apology from the Pope to the Irish faithful that was also taken as a message to the broader church.

The letter, to be read at mass throughout Ireland today, recognises years of “sinful and criminal” sexual abuse by the clergy.

“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry ... It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel,” Benedict writes in the seven-page letter, the first public apology of its kind.

“I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity violated ... We are all scandalised by the sins and failures of some of the church’s members.”

The Pope reprimands Irish bishops for “grave errors of judgment and failures of leadership” in handling cases of abuse. He does not announce any sackings, however.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the church in Ireland — who, as this newspaper revealed last week, attended a secret tribunal in 1975 at which two children abused by a priest were made to take a vow of silence — remains in his job.

Nor has the Pope ordered bishops or priests to report sexual abuse to the police when they learn of it, as Irish victims’ groups demanded.

Much of the anger in Ireland appeared unassuaged last night. Andrew Madden, the first victim to go public after reaching a settlement with the church, said he was deeply disappointed. The Pope’s letter had failed to acknowledge any active role taken by leading figures in covering up sexual abuse by priests, he said.

“There is no owning up by the Pope to his part in the cover-up,” Madden said. “He says he is deeply sorry about what other people did, not what he did.”

Madden is not the only one to claim that questions about the Pope’s role remain unanswered.

IN the case of Hullermann, the priest from Essen, the Pope — then Archbishop Ratzinger — presided over a meeting of church officials in Munich on January 15, 1980.

The minutes show that far from being reported to the police, Hullermann had his request for a “flat and temporary lodging” in a Munich parish granted. “Chaplain Hullermann will engage in psychotherapy treatment,” the minutes read.

Huth, the psychiatrist, said there were problems from the start. Hullermann agreed only to group therapy and refused to recognise that he was a threat to boys. He portrayed himself as a victim, forced to undergo treatment by his superiors.

“His personality problems couldn’t be overcome,” said Huth.

The psychiatrist prescribed drugs to treat Hullermann’s alcoholism and recommended not only that he be kept away from children, but that he be monitored by another priest at all times.

A church official asked Huth why he had made such a recommendation, protesting Hullermann was “well liked among the altar boys and the staff”.

Gerhard Gruber, then Ratzinger’s deputy, has now accepted blame for “serious mistakes” that followed, including restoring the priest to pastoral duties. Officials have not disclosed whether Ratzinger was kept informed before he moved to the Vatican in 1982.

Giancarlo Zizola, a writer on the Vatican, said Ratzinger “very probably” was updated about Hullermann. “The archbishop is responsible for the diocese, people answer to him, so theoretically he is aware of what’s happening,” Zizola said.

The suggestion that the Pope may have known more than has been admitted in a case where inaction allowed sexual abuse to continue was echoed by Hans Kung, a dissident Catholic theologian who once taught with Benedict at Tübingen University in Germany.

In an article published by several European newspapers last week, Kung charged that Benedict knew about the sexual abuse of members of the Domspatzen (cathedral sparrows) choir in Regensburg. The choirmaster from 1964 to 1994 was Benedict’s brother, Georg, and the future Pope had also taught theology there.

Former choirboys at Regensburg have testified about ordeals stretching into the early 1990s.

“Joseph Ratzinger was perfectly well aware of the situation of the Domspatzen,” Kung wrote. “And it is not a case of slaps, which unfortunately were the order of the day at the time, but of sex crimes.”

Kung demanded that Benedict issue a mea culpa for his part in “covering up decades of clerical sex abuse”.

Bishops including the Pope should not just seek forgiveness, but “should finally acknowledge their own coresponsibility” in covering up “systematic abuses”, said Kung.

“Should not Pope Benedict XVI also assume his own responsibility, instead of complaining that there is a campaign against him?”

Kung was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology after he rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility. Benedict invited him to dinner shortly after his election as Pope five years ago, prompting speculation that they had reconciled.

Benedict has now let it be known that he is “disappointed and saddened” by Kung’s attack. His brother Georg, 86, acknowledged earlier this month that he had slapped young members of the choir. He said he had never heard anything about sexual abuse there.

IN the eyes of his critics, Benedict’s failure to demand more openness with the police is reminiscent of a 2001 directive he issued as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body in charge of prosecuting sex crimes. They accuse him of fostering a culture of secrecy by insisting on keeping cases confidential while the church investigated them.

Andrea Tornielli, a papal biographer, dismissed this. “Benedict simply applied sub judice rules to the church’s investigation. And he insisted on all cases being reported immediately to his congregation to stop bishops covering them up. He has long been pushing for zero tolerance and for cases to be reported to judicial authorities,” Tornielli said.

Outrage over secrecy in the church is becoming more acute, however. For many, the scandal lies not only in the scale of the abuse but also in the way the church kept it quiet.

In Austria, a poll last week indicated that almost 1m Catholics were considering leaving the church because of its handling of the allegations. The crisis is also spreading to Italy, where the Vatican’s influence has until now stifled any revelations. Cases have come to light in Rome and Florence.

The Vatican has signalled that it will launch reforms including a more rigorous selection of candidates for the priesthood and closer co-operation with civilian authorities.

Such reforms will come too late for Hullermann and his victims. His flock in the spa town of Bad Tölz knew nothing about his record until last Sunday, when they were told in church.

The congregation sat in shocked silence, save for a 30-year-old who stood up and interrupted the service.

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1 Comments:

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