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JANUARY 8, 2013 4:54PM

German bishops sabotage pedophile sex abuse investigation

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 Walter Mixa

One down, twenty-six to go: Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg was forced to resign in 2010 following accusations of child beating and embezzlement  

WHEN I FIRST STARTED blogging about the German Catholic sexual abuse scandal in this space a few years back, I did so with a feeling of hope – hope that thorough reporting by critical journalists (and, perhaps, by concerned bloggers like me) would finally bring about lasting change. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” and all that.

Today, however, I’m not so sure about the decontaminating qualities of sunlight – sometimes you need a bottle of Lysol, or something even stronger. You see, in 2011, faced with huge public pressure, the German Bishops' Conference finally decided to carry out a thorough investigation of pedophile abuse among its priests and in its various schools and social welfare facilities. It even commissioned the Criminological Research Institute of the state of Lower Saxony to comb through personnel files in all twenty-seven Catholic dioceses in the country.

The investigation was planned to last for three years and address the following questions: What conditions led to the offenses occurring? How did the church deal with the offenses? What lessons can be drawn in order to prevent such offenses in the future? The criminologists were also supposed to study how the perpetrators’ profiles have evolved over the years. Each diocese would provide documents going back ten years, and some would even provide files dating back to 1945. This, the bishops believed, should settle the matter once and for all and wipe the Church’s reputation clean.

Suffer the little children

"Suffer the little children..." 

This week, however, Spiegel Online is reporting that local bishops and institutions have sabotaged the effort to such an extent that the investigation is about to collapse. In December, 2012, the Institute’s director, Christian Pfeiffer, accused the bishops of poor cooperation and expressed his suspicion that they have been shredding files.

This was probably bound to happen. Despite the cooperation with outside experts, the investigation was essentially structured as an inside job. At no time could the bishops agree on a common approach in their dealings with the Criminological Research Institute. The main issue has been privacy. How could they ensure that individuals would remain anonymous and that confidential material did not reach the public? Too bad that nobody bothered to remind these men of the cloth that Germany’s admirably comprehensive post-war privacy laws were primarily motivated by the desire to protect former Nazis from snooping by overzealous journalists and former victims. Who would have guessed that they could also be used to shield pedophile priests?

According to Spiegel Online, the investigation was motivated by an earlier check of files in Munich, which uncovered a full nine times more pedophile sex abuse cases than the diocese had previously admitted to.

The ongoing scandal has devastated the Church's public image. Thousands of members have abandoned the strait and narrow path in recent years, and in 2011 - for the first time since Saint Bonifatius chopped down the pagans' sacred Thor Oak and launched Christianity here in the eighth century - more Catholics left the Church than were baptized. 

The bishops are going to reconsider their cooperation with the Institute in the coming weeks. In the meantime, “sunlight” in the form of articles and blogs doesn’t seem to be clearing the air. Since that’s the case, wouldn’t the most sensible course of action be simply for parents to keep their kids out of the priests’ reach until the Church has transformed itself from the bottom up and from the inside out? And while the bishops are at it, they might as well get rid of the hellfire, damnation, systematic illogic, sexism, and homophobia too. Granted, at this rate that could take another two thousand years. Considering the alternative, however, isn’t it worth the wait?


 Suffer the little children

Don't touch that switch - pull the plug!



UPDATE: January 9, 2013

Director Christian Pfeiffer and his Criminological Research Institute cancelled their cooperation in disgust today. Responding to the collapse of the abuse investigation, Christian Weisner of the lay Catholic reform movement "We Are the Church" today claimed that the entire project is hopelessly misconceived and can only be conducted by an outside organization immune to Church interference. He argued that any intelligent investigation would also have to tackle the "systemic links" between pedophile abuse and the Church itself, including such issues as authority, obedience, celibacy, and the priesthood. Weisner anticipates a further wave of Catholics fleeing the Church.

The bishops say they will be looking for a new cooperation partner in order to resolve the pedophile scandal once and for all. We'll see about that.



See also these earlier posts:

 German Catholic sex scandal reaches Pope Benedict

Germany's "Year of the Priest" ends with police raid 

"My heart is pure": Bishop Mixa faces an abusive past

Bishop's resignation shifts attention to Protestant abuse

Massive abuse scandal shatters Dutch Catholic Church 

Did the Catholic Church castrate abuse whistleblowers? 



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Thank you for your continuing work on this extremely important issue. I guess the next one to take on is the origin of Christianity itself. Have you ever seen the film Zeitgeist? You can see it free online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrHeg77LF4Y
Thanks. I should point out here that I'm well aware that Catholic priests aren't alone when it comes to pedophile abuse, and that - statistically, and sexually - children are safer in the care of priests than in the hands of laymen. Yes, "the flesh is weak," like they say, and we must take human nature into consideration, etc. My point is that it's the coverup, and not the actual crime, that is at issue here. Yes, it's terrible that a relatively few Catholic priests have been abusing children. It's much worse, though, that the Church hierarchy has been systematically protecting this behavior for decades, centuries, perhaps millennia. Without this top-level coverup, these abuses could never have thrived to the extent that they have. Thus my target in these blogs is not Catholicism as such, but rather Catholicism as a systematic accessory to pedophile abuse.
Horrible - but not really surprising, right?
the problem is not individual pedophiles, it is institutional support of pedophiles in defense of the church reputation.

the problem is, as always, expecting politicians to pursue powerful groups is foolish. it is not in their personal interest. the people of germany can not expect good government if they are unwilling or unable to establish democracy.

"you get the government you deserve" is precisely true for elective oligarchies.
You're right, of course. Church and state are joined at the hip here, and nobody wants to "go there." The only people who can change the Catholic Church are Catholics themselves. If the authorities were of any use, they would have done so centuries ago.
Thanks for this update.
Well done! You have encapsulated the situation very nicely.

I wonder why it is that every hierarchy mankind builds, from religious ones to political ones to business ones, always goes awry?

It certainly seems that we desperately need a different way of organizing ourselves.

Well done Alan and thank you for staying on this important topic which helps us better understand the nature of power and how it can corrupt even those institutions committed to values of mercy and compassion. Al loomis is right. The Catholic pedophile scandal is a cautionary tale of what happens to any institution or ruling caste (like the church hierarchy) able to convince itself that it is indispensable. The neoconservatives would turn the United States into a militarized, imperial power operating outside established international norms and unaccountable to other countries arguing that we are the "one, true, indispensable nation." And the bishops, too, justify covering up the abuse of children under their care if a public scandal would undermine the authority of a Catholic leadership they have convinced themselves is all that stands between civilization and perdition.
Thank you for writing about this. It seems to have missed mainstream media.
Alan,as you know, I have heard the different reports to this topic.
Christian Pfeiffer whom I have heard personally,seems to be a very moderate man and not someone who would get into a hassle with anyone.He said that the church wanted to have a first look (censure) at the papers before they would be made public.He also said something to the effect that the church was using enormous pressure on the investigating team.
I can't believe that the church will get away with it. As in previous centuries,the church appears to have more power than the Federal Supreme Court.
Nowadays,with news spreading so fast,there will be enormous pressure on the Catholic Church because this scandal has become an international issue.
We have the new institution in Brussels (ECJ(European Court of Human Rights) who in my opinion should intervene.
It's high time to take the omnipotence finally away from the Catholic Church.Too much damage has been committed in the name of God.
I myself have been in a Catholic institution,and believe me,I have experienced the darkest side of these hippocratic clergyman and
Tipo:It should say "ECJ"="European Court of Justice"
Child sex trafficking/sexual abuse of any sort is a topic dear to my heart. However, look at the massive cover-up in the US College sports teams. (yeah, I'm talking to you Philly and Syracuse). Die-hard fans were more appalled at their athletic heroes being tied and tarred rather than the despicable acts they had committed. Yes, money talks; and these teams are profit-makers for their institutions.