German Catholics upset by Pope's 'silence'

Monday 15 March 2010 16.08
Pope Benedict XVI - Has not commented on German abuse scandal
Pope Benedict XVI - Has not commented on German abuse scandal

German Catholic groups hit out today at what they see as the German-born Pope's silence over the paedophilia scandal rocking the country's Church.

The scandal 'affects people, whether they are religious or not,' said Dirk Taenzler, head of the Federation of German Catholic Youth, in the Berliner Zeitung daily. 'The Holy Father should make a statement about this.'

He added that the German Catholic Church, which has been hit by allegations of child sex abuse dating back decades on an almost daily basis in recent weeks, was in the midst of one of its 'biggest identity crises since 1945'.

Christian Weisner from the German chapter of reform movement We Are Church said meanwhile that Pope Benedict XVI 'has not yet realised the full extent of the insecurity' caused by the scandal.

'Many Catholics who are faithful to the Church regret the fact that Benedict XVI has failed to express a single word of sympathy,' Mr Weisner added.

The Catholic Church has been engulfed in a scandal since January when a Jesuit-run school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since then, there have been allegations at some two-thirds of the country's 27 dioceses as more victims come forward.

With the Catholic Church hit by similar scandals in other countries, Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 on the issue. In February he called child abuse a 'heinous crime' and a 'grave sin'.

But he has yet to comment directly on the scandal rocking his home country, critics say.

One of those implicated is a boarding school attached to Regensburg cathedral's choir. The pope's elder brother, Georg Ratzinger, who ran the choir for 30 years, has denied all knowledge of sexual abuse.

On Friday the dioceses of Munich and Freising said that the Pope, when he was archbishop there, had approved in 1980 giving a suspected paedophilia priest Church housing in the diocese for 'therapy'.

Two years later, by which time the Pope had been transferred to the Vatican, the priest was given pastoral duties in the town of Graefing where he committed sexual abuses. He was given a suspended jail sentence in 1986.

The vicar-general at the time has assumed 'all responsibility' for the 'bad mistake'. The priest concerned is reportedly still employed by the Church.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi went on the offensive on Saturday.

'It is clearly evident that in the past few days there are some who have sought - with a dogged focus on Regensburg and Munich -elements to personally implicate the Holy Father in questions of abuse,' he said.

'It is clear that these efforts have failed,' he said on Radio Vatican.

'The Church's credibility has been badly shaken,' said Wolfgang Thierse, deputy speaker of the German parliament and a board member of the Central Committee of German Catholics.

'The Church should be more honest and more severe with itself, and that goes for the Pope too,' he said on public television.

More priests suspended in Austria on abuse charges

Meanwhile, a monastery in Upper Austria hit by accusations of sexual abuse announced today it had suspended two more of its clergy after further complaints, taking to five the suspensions in one week.

One of the padres accused of sexual abuse at the Kremsmuenster monastery apologised for his behaviour and said he 'never meant to be a sadist'.

'Father Alfons has been relieved of his duties ... and Father Petrus will also be suspended from his duties until the allegations have been fully investigated,' Abbot Ambros Ebhart said in a statement on the monastery's website.

A third padre, Father Benedikt, was suspended last week on the same charges while two other padres were suspended after allegations of physical abuse. The abuse is alleged to have taken place largely in the 1980s.

Father Petrus reports to the authorities today and the other two have agreed to work with the authorities and a special diocese committee on abuse, the statement said.

The number of complaints of sexual abuse by priests has been growing in Austria since cases came to light earlier this month.

In the wake of the snowballing scandal, Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser called for a rethink of the Catholic Church's rule of priest celibacy.