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CRIME

Ex-pope Benedict under scrutiny in German child abuse probe

A potentially explosive report into the handling of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church will on Thursday be published in Germany, with former pope Benedict XVI among those in the spotlight.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful during the Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square, Vatican City, 14 March 2010. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ettore Ferrari

The report by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) will analyse how abuse cases were dealt with in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019.

The Munich archdiocese, which commissioned the report, said it will examine “whether those responsible complied with legal requirements… and acted appropriately in dealing with suspected cases and possible perpetrators”.

Ex-pope Benedict — whose civilian name is Josef Ratzinger — was the archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

During this time, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.

Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history.

In 1986, by which time Ratzinger had been transferred to the Vatican, he was convicted of molesting more children and given a suspended prison sentence.

Even after the conviction, he continued to work with children for many years and his case is regarded as a pertinent example of the mishandling of abuse by the Church.

Benedict has denied knowing about the priest’s history.

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

82-page statement

The ex-pope has provided an 82-page statement in response to questions from WSW, according to German media reports.

The pope emeritus “takes the fates of the abuse victims very much to heart” and is fully “in favour of the publication of the Munich report”, his spokesman Georg Gaenswein told the Bild daily.

Benedict, 94, in 2013 became the first pope ever to step down from the role in 600 years and now lives a secluded life in a former convent inside the grounds of the Vatican.

The reformist Catholic group “Wir sind Kirche” (We are Church) called on the ex-pontiff to take responsibility for what happened while he was in charge of the Munich diocese.

“An admission by Ratzinger that through his actions or inactions, knowledge or ignorance, he was personally and professionally complicit in the suffering of many young people would be… an example for many other bishops and responsible persons,” it said in a statement.

Germany’s Catholic Church has been rocked by a string of reports in recent years that have exposed widespread abuse of children by clergymen.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen in the country had committed some form of sexual attack 
against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

‘Systemic failure’

However, the real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

Another report published last year exposed the scope of abuse committed by priests in Germany’s top diocese of Cologne.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, last year offered Pope Francis his resignation over the church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in its handling of child sex abuse scandals.

However, Pope Francis rejected his offer, urging the cardinal known for his reforms to stay and help shape change in the Catholic Church.

READ ALSO:

As archbishop in Munich since 2007, Marx could also find himself under scrutiny in the WSW report.

Friedrich Wetter, who held the role from 1982 to 2007, is also still alive.

The abuse scandal has thwarted the Catholic Church’s efforts to spearhead broad reforms in Germany.

It counted 22.2 million members in 2020 and is still the largest religion in the country, but the number is 2.5 million fewer than in 2010 when the first major wave of paedophile abuse cases came to light.

Payouts for victims of abuse were increased in 2020 to up to 50,000 euros ($56,700), from around 5,000 euros previously, but campaigners say the sum is still inadequate.

Ahead of the publication of the Munich report, the Eckiger Tisch victims’ group called for “compensation instead of hollow words”.

“Far too many children and young people have fallen victim” to a system “shaped by abuse of power, intransparency and despotism”, said Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the group.

By Femke Colborne

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CRIME

German police foil teenage school ‘Nazi attack’

German investigators said Thursday they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a "Nazi terror attack".

German police foil teenage school 'Nazi attack'

“The police prevented a nightmare,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state.

Police in the city of Essen had stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

Some of the pipe bombs found contained nails, but officers did not find any detonators, Reul said.

There are “indications suggesting the young man has serious psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts,” said Reul.

Material found so far in the suspect’s room include his own writing which constituted “a call for urgent help by a desperate young man.”

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalisation and hate,” said NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanked police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack”.

The suspect is being questioned while investigators continue to comb his home for evidence.

Investigators believe that he was acting alone.

They had been tipped off by another teen who informed them that the young man “wanted to place bombs in his school”, located about 800 metres from his home.

The school, as well as another institution, were closed on Thursday as investigators undertook fingertip searches as the locations to ensure that no bombs had been placed on site.

‘Neo-Nazi networks’ 

Germany has been rocked by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

Large amounts of material championing conspiracy theories and far-right ideology were subsequently found in the gunman’s apartment.

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants and investigators in April carried out country-wide raids against “neo-Nazi networks”, arresting four suspects.

The suspects targeted in the raids were believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 group named after theorder in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic) Division or the online propaganda group Sonderkommando 1418.

German authorities were also battling to clean extremists from within their ranks. Last year, the state of Hesse said it was dissolving Frankfurt’s elite police force after several officers were accused of participating in far-right online chats and swapping neo-Nazi symbols.

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