SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

Over 300 victims ‘sexually abused through Germany’s top diocese’ in Cologne

An independent study commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church uncovered hundreds of cases of sexual violence committed by clergy and laymen in Germany's top diocese, its authors said Thursday.

Over 300 victims 'sexually abused through Germany's top diocese' in Cologne
Cologne's Archbischop Rainer Maria Woelki at a press conference on the results. Photo: DPA

The long-awaited 800-page report on the Cologne diocese found 202 perpetrators of sexual assault and 314 victims between 1975 and 2018, most of them under the age of 14, the attorney mandated by the Church, Björn Gercke, told reporters.

“More than half of the victims were children under the age of 14,” Gercke said.

However the investigation cleared Cologne’s Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, a conservative who has long resisted Church reform efforts, of “breach of duty” regarding abuse within the Church.

Woelki had faced a months-long firestorm of protest for refusing to allow the publication of an earlier study on abuse committed by priests in his diocese.

READ ALSO: Tensions mount in Catholic Church over abuse report

He had 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.

His approach was branded “a disaster” as recently as late February by Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, in a blistering public statement.

Woelki said in early March he would immediately “temporarily suspend, if necessary, people cited in the report” before taking more concrete measures to address its findings next week.

And he expressed willingness to throw his weight behind an honest accounting of crimes committed within the Church. “Only the truth can set us free from the shadows of the past,” he said.
Woelki was due to make a statement later Thursday.

‘Disrupting’ reform

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some type 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 countries including 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 of 5,000 “in recognition of their suffering”, as well as covering their therapy fees.

Victims have called the sum woefully insufficient.

READ ALSO: ‘We will continue to fight’: German church abuse victims say payments not enough

Meanwhile each diocese in Germany has ordered a separate local investigation into abuse among its ranks.

The scandal in Cologne has sapped energy from efforts to spearhead broader reforms at a time when the Church is losing members, who in Germany pay a tax that goes toward church activities including charity work.

Germany’s Catholic Church, the country’s largest, counted 22.6 million members in 2019, two million fewer than in 2010 when the first major wave of paedophile abuse cases came to light.

Among the reforms on the table, in the face of opposition from Woelki and the pope, are a reevaluation of celibacy in the clergy, married priests and a greater role for laypeople and women in the Church.

In a setback for members calling for greater openness, the Vatican on Monday said the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions, declaring it was impossible for God to “bless sin”.

That reaffirmation of a harder line is no accident, said Thomas Sternberg, president of the influential Central Committee of German Catholics, calling it a way for Rome to “disrupt” the German reform drive.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

POLICE

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”

SHOW COMMENTS