I find these unfolding revelations to be shocking, but a good sign of people taking courage.
German Church Is Learning From U.S. Mistakes on Abuse
By STEVEN ERLANGER
ERLIN, July 25 — Michael S., now 33, was an altar boy 24 years ago in a Roman Catholic parish in Bavaria when his priest molested him.
Even today, he says with revulsion, "I can feel this perfectly."
Later, he and his mother complained, but the church "hushed up everything," he said. When the priest was accused of similar behavior in another parish, they contacted the vicar general in Würzburg, who was willing to talk, but offered no compensation for therapy or for the abuse itself.
His mother says now that they should have sued the church, to get a response. "We should do it just like in America," she told the news magazine Der Spiegel.
The Roman Catholic Church in Germany is also paying attention to the lessons from the United States, where the church has been convulsed by accusations of pedophilia.
Church leaders here are talking openly about cases of sexual assault by priests against minors, and Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the archbishop of Mainz, warns of more revelations to come. "There are cases emerging of sexual assault by priests on minors, particularly boys," he said in a statement. "The sober view is that we can expect more revelations."
The cardinal, the highest-ranking official in the German church, is traveling in Canada with Pope John Paul II, who is not expected to address the scandal in the United States. In April, the pope called American cardinals to an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
In Germany, numerous cases are surfacing in the press, three alone in the diocese of Essen, which recently sent into retirement a 57-year-old priest suspected of pedophilia 22 years ago. The case is too old for legal prosecution. The other two cases stem from 1992 and 1999.
German prosecutors have also opened an investigation into a priest in the Mainz diocese, and he was suspended from his duties last week during an internal investigation, according to the vicar general in Mainz, the Rev. Werner Guballa. The priest is accused of having repeatedly abused a 14-year-old boy in his care in the late 1980's. Another priest is being investigated for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy in 1998.
Two priests in the Paderborn district were suspended last week on pedophilia charges and another two were suspended in Bavaria. The allegations, Cardinal Lehmann said, "shock the church in this country just as in the United States, even if there are far fewer cases here."
Church officials say that at least four priests in Germany are being investigated on suspicion of abusing children, but some see no reason why the number in Germany should be proportionally lower than in the United States.
In Essen, Bishop Franz Grave estimates that there may be 200 to 300 cases in Germany, where there are some 18,000 Roman Catholic priests.
The Rev. Hans Langendörfer, the secretary of the German Bishops' Conference, said those figures were estimates. "This is not proven," he said, "but every instance is an instance too many."
The Vatican has been encouraging, he said. "No German bishop wants to evade this depressing issue, and in this we feel supported by Rome."
German priests adopted a charter last month barring sexually abusive clergy from priestly duties. The charter has been submitted to the Vatican for approval, but representatives of victims consider the sanctions too mild. More steps will be discussed at a September assembly of the German Bishops' Conference.
"We know that moral credibility suffers when one does not responsibly and rigorously deal with such horrendous, punishable acts," Father Langendörfer said.
Some in the Vatican regard the pedophilia scandal as a particularly American obsession, but Cardinal Lehmann does not agree, Father Langendörfer said. "Sexual abuse is not just a problem of one country, and not merely of one professional group, like priests," he said. "It's clear that the experiences of the Catholic Church in America have also greatly affected us."
The church is cooperating with state criminal prosecutors, Father Langendörfer said. Bishops are advising priests "to come forward themselves," he said.
But Cardinal Lehmann conceded that it is never easy to uncover cases of abuse. "The pedophile generally denies just as long as he can," the cardinal said. "Those affected around him often say nothing or withdraw when questioned. It is only too easy — but still wrong — to speak so quickly of a coverup in view of these difficulties."
As for Michael S., he said: "Who has sympathy for us? The parish priest can use his power like a pistol. I can defend lives with that, but I can also shoot someone."