German prosecutors examine 42 cases after church abuse probe

Prosecutors in Munich on Friday said they are examining 42 cases of potential misconduct by clergymen in connection with a damning new report on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Archive photo shows a cross in a Catholic church in Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt.
Archive photo shows a cross in a Catholic church in Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Ronny Hartmann

The report published Thursday by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine how abuse cases were dealt with between 1945 and 2019.

It found indications of sexually abusive behaviour in 235 people it investigated, including 173 priests, and accused former pope Benedict of failing to take action against four offenders.

The law firm has passed on details of 42 cases in which “misconduct on the part of church leaders is deemed to have occurred”, Anne Leiding, a spokeswoman for the Munich public prosecutor’s office, told AFP.

“These cases… exclusively concern church leaders who are still alive,” Leiding said.

READ ALSO: Probe finds ex-pope Benedict failed to act in German abuse cases

If the law appears to have been broken, prosecutors will ask the law firm to pass on further relevant documents for investigation, she added.

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.

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.

The Munich report also accused senior clergymen, such as the pope emeritus as well as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, of knowingly failing to take action against paedophile priests.

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

Among the cases he was accused of failing to tackle were two involving clergymen who had committed several proven acts of abuse but were allowed to continue with pastoral duties.

READ ALSO: German bishop resigns over Catholic church’s ‘failure’ in abuse scandal

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Former Nazi camp guard, 93, faces German court reckoning

The prosecution's closing arguments will be heard on Monday in the trial of a 93-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard for complicity in the murder of more than 5,000 people during World War II.

Former Nazi camp guard, 93, faces German court reckoning
The 93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey at a Hamburg court on June 19th. Photo: DPA

In what could be one of the last such cases of surviving Nazi guards, Bruno Dey stands accused of complicity in the murder of 5,230 people when he worked at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.

Dey, who has appeared in court in a wheelchair, denies bearing any guilt for what happened at the camp.

His defence has insisted that he did not join the SS voluntarily before serving at the camp from August 1944 to April 1945, ending up assigned there because a heart condition excluded him from frontline service.

But prosecutors argue that his involvement was crucial to the killings, as his time in the SS coincided with the “Final Solution” order to systematically exterminate Jews through gassing, starvation or denial of medical care.

Dey is standing trial at a juvenile court because he was aged between 17 and 18 at the time.

READ ALSO: Former Nazi concentration camp guard, 93, 'sorry for what he did', German court hears

'Emaciated figures'

During his testimony in May, Dey told the court that he wanted to forget his time at the camp.

“I don't want to keep going over the past,” he told the Hamburg tribunal.

Judge Anna Meier-Goering had asked whether Dey had spoken to his children and grandchildren about the time he stood guard at Stutthof.

“I don't bear any guilt for what happened back then,” Dey said. “I didn't contribute anything to it, other than standing guard. But I was forced to do it, it was an order.”

Dey acknowledged last year that he had been aware of the camp's gas chambers and admitted seeing “emaciated figures, people who had suffered”, but insisted he was not guilty.

The Nazis set up the Stutthof camp in 1939, initially using it to detain Polish political prisoners.

But it ended up holding 110,000 detainees, including many Jews. Some 65,000 people perished in the camp.

Race against time

Dey, who now lives in Hamburg, became a baker after the war.

Married with two daughters, he supplemented his income by working as a truck driver, before later taking on a job in building maintenance.

He came into prosecutors' sights after a landmark 2011 ruling against former Sobibor camp guard John Demjanjuk on the basis that he was part of the Nazi killing machine.

Since then, Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.


Ukrainian-American Demjanjuk was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of nearly 30,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp. He died while his appeal was pending.

The court ruled that as a guard at the camp, he was automatically implicated in killings carried out there at the time.

The case set a new legal precedent and prompted several further convictions of Nazi officers, including that of the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” Oscar Gröning.

He died aged 96 before he could be jailed.

By Femke Colborne