Munich abuse report shakes the Catholic Church

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Barbara Leyendecker (lr), Ulrich Wastl, Marion Westpfahl and Martin Pusch from the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl at the presentation of the report on cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. © Sven Hoppe/dpa POOL/dpa

There have already been a number of reports on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but the new report from Munich is shocking. Ratzinger’s role is particularly explosive.

Munich – The new report on sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising shakes the Catholic Church. Those affected raise serious allegations and the judiciary is examining whether church leaders have possibly made themselves punishable.

The Munich I public prosecutor’s office is currently investigating 42 cases of misconduct by church leaders, confirmed the authority’s spokeswoman, Anne Leiding, to the German Press Agency.

The law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), which wrote the sensational judgment on behalf of the diocese, made “41 cases available to the public prosecutor in August 2021,” said Leiding – and another case in November 2021. “They only concern living church officials and were transmitted in a highly anonymised form.”

Criminal law relevance under examination

If, on this basis, “suspects regarding possibly criminally relevant behavior on the part of church officials arise”, the relevant documents would be requested from the law firm and, if necessary, passed on to the responsible public prosecutor’s office, said Leiding. “Which criminal law norms were violated is still the subject of the examination.”

The WSW report, commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising itself, comes to the conclusion that cases of sexual abuse in the diocese have not been dealt with appropriately for decades and accuses the former archbishops Friedrich Wetter and Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. , concrete and personal misconduct in several cases.

The current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, has also been accused of formal misconduct in two cases. The experts speak of at least 497 victims and 235 suspected perpetrators, but assume a significantly larger number of unreported cases.

Explosive role of Ratzinger

Ratzinger’s role is particularly explosive. Because the experts assume that in all probability he did not tell the truth.

The renowned canon lawyer Thomas Schüller is clearer: “He clearly lied,” he said on Thursday evening in the ARD “Focal Point”. Benedict had repeatedly emphasized that he had not attended a meeting in 1980 that decided that a priest who had abused boys in the diocese of Essen should be transferred to Bavaria. Ratzinger was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.

The law firm WSW submitted minutes according to which Ratzinger – contrary to what he claimed – had taken part in the meeting. “The damage to Benedict’s reputation is great, precisely because he has always shown himself to be a fighter against sexual abuse in the church,” said the Catholic theologian Daniel Bogner of the dpa.

Ratzinger’s participation in the meeting is documented, “because the minutes report things that only he can know from a conversation with Pope John Paul II,” emphasized Schüller in the ARD “Focal Point”. Schüller called the fact that this conversation was about the withdrawal of the teaching license for Ratzinger’s long-standing liberal adversary, the theologian Hans Küng, a “pitch joke of history”.

“Today he doesn’t want to see the truth, but he denies it and tries to shift all responsibility away from himself, and in doing so he snubs the victims a second time,” Schüller criticized the Pope Emeritus. Today’s Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is already further along. “He’s really understood now that he has to side with the victims,” ​​said Schüller. “We’ll see if it’s too late.”

Theologians on possible resignation of Marx

Agnes Wich, on the other hand, sees Marx’s role differently and sharply criticized the fact that he was not present when the report was presented and later only gave a brief statement. A more detailed one will follow in a week.

Following the revelations in the report, theologian Bogner believes that Marx’s resignation would be appropriate. It is conceivable that the archbishop of Munich and Freising will offer his resignation to the pope again in response to the report – as he did last year, said the professor of moral theology and ethics at the Swiss University of Freiburg. “And I hope he will not accept another rejection by Pope Francis this time. This would initially only be a symbolic, but very strong sign that the previous structures of the church will no longer function in this way.”

The Munich report will probably further increase the number of people leaving the church. What is now decisive is how this is dealt with within the Church: “Does it still remain the case that individuals are held accountable, or are structural conclusions drawn from this?” dpa

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