In the latest revelation to rock the Catholic Church worldwide, the elite elite Canisius school in Berlin last week admitted systematic sexual abuse of children by at least two Roman Catholic priests. They were named in media reports as Peter R. and Wolfgang S., who left the school in 1981 and 1979 respectively.
The head of the Jesuits in Germany revealed on Tuesday that a third priest, named in newspapers as Bernhard E., had been suspended after admitting abusing one pupil after a lawyer representing three alleged victims confronted him.
The priest taught at Canisius from 1970-1, and worked with children in schools and in other functions in other cities including Hamburg and Hannover until 1983 before helping found a charity, the German Jesuit society said.
“The cases from the 1970s in Hannover … give rise to the fear that there were similar assaults at other places,” said the society’s head Stefan Dartmann.
The third priest, reportedly the holder of numerous honorary doctorate degrees and now 70 years old, has turned himself in to police. He no longer works for the charity, which has not been named.
Press reports said that close to 30 cases of abuse have now been reported including in Hamburg, Berlin, St. Blasien in southern Germany and Hildesheim near Hannover.
The Berliner Morgenpost regional daily reported that Peter R., who has been quoted as denying abusing any children, was attacked with a knife in 1986 by a former Canisius pupil who later committed suicide. At the time, the priest persuaded police not to investigate, the paper said.
“R. didn’t want the police. He said the attacker wanted money,” the daily quoted a member of the local diocese in Göttingen where the incident occurred as saying.
The Bild daily cited former Canisius pupils as saying that he was a sadistic teacher fond of hitting bare bottoms and asking pupils embarrassing questions about masturbation.
In 1993 a woman complained to the local bishop that R. had touched her 14-year-old daughter inappropriately, after which he was not allowed to work with children again – a ban that was not kept to, reports said.
There have been allegations of abuse at three places where Wolfgang S. worked, in Berlin, Hamburg and St. Blasien in the Black Forest, Bild said. He underwent therapy for his “addiction” for seven years, but he was still allowed to work with children even though his superiors knew about the treatment, the paper added. He confessed in 1991, left the order in 1992 and now lives in Chile.
Klaus Mertes, the rector of Canisius, had said last week he first became aware of the abuse when two ex-pupils came forward in 2004 but that he did not go public at the victims’ request.
After class reunions, five former students over the last two months reported similar treatment at the hands of priests. All of the victims were male and now “well over 40,” he said. But reports said that the abuse had been covered up for decades, with eight Canisius pupils writing to the rector of the school in 1981 complaining about the strange “sexual education” methods used by their teachers. The letter was copied to the archbishop and senior Jesuit figures.
Mertes told the Tagesspiegel daily on Wednesday he believed the revelations to have emerged so far were “the tip of the iceberg.”
“Because what has come to light here also happens at other schools, not just at Catholic ones,” he said.
Repeated revelations of paedophile priests have rocked the Roman Catholic church in recent years.
Pope Benedict XVI has summoned Irish bishops to the Vatican in February to chart a way forward after it emerged that Church authorities covered up for abusing priests in the mainly Catholic country for three decades.