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ABUSE

Holy division and cynicism

What is going on in the Catholic Church in Germany? Wracked by sexual abuse scandals, it has now decided to get into an ugly row with disgraced Bishop Walter Mixa. Paul Kreiner of Der Tagesspiegel doubts the pope can usher in a new era of reform.

Holy division and cynicism
Photo: DPA

It’s the perfect storm at exactly the wrong time for the Catholic Church: the personal tragedy of a man who was clearly not suited to be a bishop has smashed head-on into the stone cold attitude of his fellow clerics.

How devastating is it when the Archbishop of Munich decides to keep secret serious accusations against Walter Mixa “in his own interest,” but allows his own spokesman to mutter the former bishop of Augsburg’s stay in a psychiatric clinic is a first step to recovery? Spiritual leaders should know that someone who has been admitted to a psychiatric clinic does not need cynicism. He needs help.

In keeping with its tradition, the Church maintained its silence about Mixa for too long. This explains the force with which the affair has now erupted. But such vehemence is new. When Father Walter Mixa of the small Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen was appointed bishop of Eichstätt in 1996, the people of Schrobenhausen raised their eyebrows at first. But they did not speak up, because in a good Catholic area one does not dispute the local priest.

Similarly, when Mixa’s transfer to Augsburg was imminent in 2005, rumours of unseemly sexual behaviour emanated from the seminary of Eichstätt, but they did not trickle through to the key Church officials because the wisdom of the Vatican was not to be questioned.

It may also be true that objections were not heeded – or were not allowed to be heeded – in the higher rungs of the clergy hierarchy, because in the last few decades the Vatican has systematically barricaded itself from all protests affecting bishop appointments. When conflicts arose, as in the case of Joachim Meisner in Cologne, the Vatican has often preferred to force through its own candidates rather than bow to the wishes of a “rebellious” Church congregation.

The balance of power within the Church also protected Mixa, since he belonged to the conservative wing of the Bishops’ Conference, which was not willing or able to accept the weakening of its position. Such reflexes have made everything much worse. They have not only damaged the reputation of a single faction, but of the entire Church.

The massive scope of child abuse scandal at Catholic institutions has force Church officials to end the era of leaden silence. Under John Paul II, it would have been unthinkable to see bishops question one of their own in public, destroying the “unity of the episcopate.” But Pope Benedict XVI has allowed this to happen. He does not defend the indefensible; he prescribes a course of self-purification for his Church.

But the pontiff has not offered any actual suggestions for what institutional reforms could result from this self-purification – neither for bishop appointments, dialogue with the church laity, nor priest celibacy. Benedict XVI is certainly closing one epoch, but as yet he is failing to open a new one.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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RELIGION

Tensions mount in German Catholic Church over abuse report

Pressure increased on Friday on a powerful German Catholic archbishop who has for months blocked the publication of a report about alleged sexual abuse of minors by members of his diocese.

Tensions mount in German Catholic Church over abuse report
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Koin, at the autumn plenary assembly of the German Bishops' Conference in the City Palace. September 2020: Picture alliance / DPA | Arne Dedert

In a rare public rebuke, the diocese council of the western city of Cologne, which groups clergy and laypeople, sharply criticised Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, saying he had “completely failed as a moral authority”.

“We find ourselves in the biggest crisis that the Church has ever experienced,” Tim Kurzbach, head of the council, said in a statement.

“Those responsible must finally also take responsibility. We need clarity now. Otherwise we have no chance of getting out of this misery.”

Woelki, a conservative who has resisted Church reform efforts, has faced criticism for months for refusing to allow the publication of an independent study on abuse committed by clergy in his diocese, the country's largest, between 1975 and 2018.

Victims have expressed anger and disappointment about his stance.

Woelki has justified his decision by citing a right to privacy of the alleged perpetrators accused in the report, carried out by a Munich law firm, and what he called a lack of independence on the part of some researchers.   

In early November, the diocese of the western city of Aachen published its own study prepared by the same law firm.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

However its authors said the actual number of victims was almost certainly much higher.

The revelations, which mirror paedophile scandals in Australia, Chile, France, Ireland and the United States, prompted Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a prominent reformer, to apologise on behalf of the German Catholic Church.

The Church currently pays victims an average sum of 5,000 euros ($6,067) “in recognition of their suffering”, as well as covering their therapy fees.

In September 2020, German bishops agreed that victims would be entitled to payouts of up to €50,000 each and an independent committee would be set up to examine complaints and decide on payouts from January 1st, 2021.

READ ALSO: German Catholic Church to pay abuse victims up to €50,000

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