In comments to be published Thursday, respected criminologist Christian Pfeiffer told weekly Die Zeit that there were “even indications that priests are under-represented in their age group compared with other men.”
Pfeiffer, a former justice minister for the state of Lower Saxony and director of the state's criminal research institute, has been commissioned by the Church to investigate the prevalence of abuse among German priests.
Pfeiffer declined to say whether the Church's insistence on celibacy and its ban on marriage for priests made them more – or perhaps even less – likely to become abusers. But he did say that US research suggested that the broader community trend towards sexual liberalisation had helped combat the tendency towards sexual abuse in the Church.
“Priests who sought sexual contact (in the US) in violation of celibacy have increasingly easily found adult partners,” he said. “This has apparently contributed to lessening the risk to children and youths that priests assault them.”
In January last year, it emerged that priests at the elite Canisius College in Berlin committed dozens of assaults on pupils in the 1970s and 1980s. The months that followed, more than 200 cases of sexual and physical abuse within the church came to light.
For their research, Pfeiffer and his institute in Hannover have been given access to the personnel files of all 27 of the Church's diocese going back 10 years, as well as the files for nine representative diocese going back to 1945.
As well as Pfeiffer's research, a separate project is being led by top forensic psychiatrist Norbert Leygraf from the University of Duisburg-Essen. The studies began in April but were only formally announced by the Church on Wednesday by Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the Church's representative on all matters relating to child sex abuse cases.
In June, bishops attending the German Bishops' Conference adopted a resolution allowing the researchers access to the Church's files, magazine Der Spiegel has reported – a reversal of the long-standing guardedness the Church has employed.