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placeholder Church in Germany tackles abuse crisis with apologies, new rules

Vatican defends efforts by pope to curb abuse

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placeholder March 22, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Church in Germany tackles abuse crisis
with apologies, new rules

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, head of the German bishops’ conference, responds to questions during a press conference at the Vatican March 12. After meeting with the pope, Archbishop Zollitsch apologized to victims of child abuse by priests.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged German bishops to continue with their efforts to aggressively confront and seek solutions to the widening scandal of sexual abuse of minors in Catholic schools, the head of the German bishops’ conference said.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg told reporters that in a 45-minute private meeting March 12 the pope encouraged him to move ahead “with decision and courage” in investigating old cases and preventing new ones.

At a news conference held at the Teutonic College inside the Vatican, Archbishop Zollitsch said the pope was “deeply moved” and listened to the facts surrounding the many claims of abuse of minors in his native Germany “with great interest and great dismay.”

Later March 12, the Vatican responded to a German report about a priest accused of sexually abusing a child who was allowed to return to pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising at the time Pope Benedict XVI was archbishop.

The Vatican press office said in a brief statement that the archdiocesan official who made the decision at the time had taken “full responsibility” for the decision.

In Germany, the archdiocese said in a March 12 statement that in 1980, then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger was involved in the decision to let the priest stay at a rectory in Munich while undergoing therapy after the accusation surfaced. The archdiocese said that later Father Gerhard Gruber, vicar general at the time, allowed the priest to return to pastoral work after therapy and that the future pope was not involved in the decision.

Pope Benedict was archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.
The archdiocese’s response came after the Germany daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on the case in its March 13 edition.

The archdiocese said no accusations of abuse were made against the priest, identified only as H., between February 1980 and August 1982 during his time in Munich.

The priest returned to ministry in nearby Grafing where he worked until early 1985 when new accusations of sexual abuse were made, the archdiocese said. On Jan. 29, 1985, he was suspended from the priesthood and in 1986 he was convicted of sexually abusing minors, the archdiocese said. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail, placed on five years probation, was fined about $1,000 and ordered to undergo psychotherapy, according to the archdiocese.

After the conviction, the priest worked in a nursing home between November 1986 and October 1987, the archdiocese said. He then worked in a parish in Garching/Alz — first as an assistant pastor and then pastor — until September 2008, according to the archdiocese.

“The relatively mild sentence of the Ebersberg Court and the observations of the psychologists who treated him were decisive in his being sent back to parish work,” the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese also said the priest was relieved of his duties at the parish when Archbishop Reinhard Marx, who was installed in 2007, decided the priest should not remain in parish work. He was assigned as a chaplain at a resort and instructed to “do no further work with children, young people or altar servers,” the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese added that after the conviction, it was unaware of further incidents involving the priest.

At the March 12 press conference, Archbishop Zollitsch said the German bishops “are profoundly disturbed that this was possible within the church environment.” He said that as cases came to light over the past several weeks, he had apologized to victims and that “I would like to do that again here in Rome.”

Archbishop Zollitsch said the German bishops “want to bring the truth to light . . . even in cases from many years ago, because this is a right of the victims.”

He said the bishops had compiled a “catalog” of rules to deal with such cases, including pastoral and therapeutic help for victims and their families; the appointment of a specific person in each diocese for victims to contact; the creation of a “culture of prevention” with guidelines for schools and church-related activities where children are present.

Full cooperation with civil authorities is part of the procedure, he said, with every case of suspected abuse subject to investigation by local law enforcement as well as church authorities. These investigations remain separate, he said, and the church probe will not have influence over the civil one.

Each diocese has been asked to fully investigate any claims of abuse or violence, even from long ago, he said.

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