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Court probes abuse at Catholic boarding school

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The monk at his court appearance in Munich on Thursday. Photo: DPA
10:19 CET+01:00
A monk and former teacher at a boarding school in the Bavarian alps pleaded not guilty on Thursday at his trial for abusing two pupils and attempted abuse of two more.

Jürgen R., a 44-year-old priest and teacher at the Ettal monastery school, told the judge in Munich that "all accusations laid against me are untrue" when he appeared to hear the charges.

He claims that he did nothing more than stroke the children on their backs and stomachs, saying that his mother did the same thing to him when he came to her for comfort.

"At that time I was in the place of the father and the mother" for the children in his care at the boarding school, he said.

Although he apologized for not maintaining the proper distance from the children, he argues that they came to him to cry on his shoulder due to his position as a "prefect" - the title given to teachers at the Benedictine monastery in the Ammergau Alps.

"Prefects are points of contacts and companions on the way through the school year for every pupil", the boarding school's website explains, as well as providing a willing ear for "personal problems".

But state prosecutors say that the monk, who joined the monastery in 1995, used his position to regularly grope children's genitals in his room between 2001 and 2005.

They say that he also committed sexual abuse against a 13-year-old boy, who pretended to be asleep during the attack, in a nearby mountain hut.

A special investigator appointed after a series of scandals at boarding schools emerged in the early 2000s presented a report on the humiliations of pupils at the Ettal monastery going back decades.

One victim told him that "there was a reign of absolute terror at the school".

He found evidence of one case in which a former abbott forced a pupil to eat a live slug.

But most of the cases were already past the statute of limitations by the time the report was published.

One priest acknowledged in his will that he had regularly had sex with pupils at night, and the monastery compensated 70 victims with a total of €700,000.

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In an eloquently-presented defence, the accused said that the charges, which had appeared years after the alleged crimes, were an attempt at revenge.

He said that one of his accusers had left the boarding school over a theft and the others felt that he had treated him unfairly.

One of them had been treated for psychiatric problems and was on medication, he said, while another had always been an "awkward customer".

"What they say is not true", he said of his former wards.

SEE ALSO: Ministry to fight child sex images with Google

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