Seal of the Church's "Year of the Priest," which ended this month
ONE THING’S FOR SURE: It’s a hell of a way to end the Vatican’s “Year of the Priest.” Police vans, German shepherds, uniformed officers - the bust looked like any of a number of raids on Belgian pedophile rings in recent years, except this time the target wasn’t a notorious child porn smuggler or another corrupt politician. Instead, it was the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church itself.
Yesterday, police agents armed with warrants entered the offices of the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels and of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, seizing documents and computers. They not only searched the cathedral crypt but actually drilled holes into the tombs of two past archbishops and inserted miniature cameras to search for hidden evidence. Several bishops were meeting with a Vatican envoy at the time of the raid. They were detained on the premises for several hours and their mobile phones were confiscated. This unprecedented action came in response to charges of child abuse against several major church figures. Danneels himself, now seventy-seven years old and recently retired from his position as Archbishop, was already convicted of negligence in the 1990s for permitting a Belgian cleric to abuse dozens of small boys at will. There is still no word on whether Danneels himself is suspected of abuse or merely of looking the other way in this and countless other cases. Whatever the facts behind the raids, Danneels is in good company: last month seventy-three year-old Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, was forced to resign after having admitted to sexually abusing at least one boy over an extended period a quarter of a century ago.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels (in red)
At the same time, police in the town of Leuven swept into the offices of the so-called Adriaenssens Committee, an independent authority that the Church had established to investigate itself. The police confiscated over 450 files relating to the allegations. In recent months, the Belgian Church – just like all the others – has received hundreds of complaints of physical and sexual abuse of children, some going back decades. Both the Belgian Church and the Vatican have protested sharply.
But as the pressure builds against the Belgian church, Bavarian Catholics can relax – at least for the moment. The rebellious former bishop and chief Bundeswehr chaplain Walter Mixa, whose reputation has assumed genuinely monstrous dimensions in recent months, finally decided to cut bait earlier this week. Last weekend Mixa’s opponents, Bishops Zollitsch and Marx, went on the counter offensive, revealing the existence of a secret dossier against Mixa, in which the sixty-nine year-old is described as “a severely alcoholic man” with an embarrassingly lavish lifestyle who is suffering from “delusions.” It also accuses him of regularly making homosexual advances on young men during his service as a priest in Schrobenhausen, so that “he had to go to confession the next morning before performing mass.” It was this dossier that convinced Pope Benedict to give his turbulent bishop the papal axe in May. Mixa, who had illegally returned to his bishop’s palace in Augsburg two weeks ago and refused to leave, demanding that he be reinstated as bishop, has now abandoned his quest and is preparing to move out of Augsburg for good – presumably out of fear that the contents of the dossier could be made public.
"Where are ye, my followers?"
Cover of this week's DIE ZEIT news magazine
The sheer sordidness of the Mixa case (which includes proven child abuse and corruption over a period of many years), combined with the Catholic Church’s apparent willingness to cover for corrupt and actively pedophile priests when it suits it, only to trump up sex scandals to get rid of troublesome clerics when they prove too inconvenient, has had a deep impact on religious feeling in Germany. According to a new study by the Allensbach Institute, an independent polling agency, the revelations of recent months have led to an astonishing exodus of believers from the Catholic Church. Compared to 2005, the percentage of the German population that looks to the Church for orientation on moral questions dropped from 35 to 29 percent by March of this year, and to just 23 percent in June. The percentage of Germans looking to the Church to provide answers regarding the meaning of life dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in March and finally to a pitiful 38 percent in June.
This week's edition of the news magazine DIE ZEIT devotes a cover story to the precipitous decline of the Catholic Church in Germany after more than twelve hundred years of triumph. But as the faithful fall away, theologian Gisbert Greshake from Freiburg has noted the rise of a bizarre new “pre-Vatican II clericalism” among young priests, who are now increasingly focusing on the cut and color of their vestments and the purity of their liturgy rather than finding anything relevant to say to their flock. He specifically noted the current discussion on the exact design of the “Cappa Magna” or “Great Cape,” an ermine-lined cloak worn by the Church’s Cardinals. But if charges end up being filed against Belgian Cardinal Danneels, he may soon find himself wearing stripes, not ermine.
The coveted "Cappa Magna"