In Germany, Catholic lay activists and others are urging Pope Benedict XVI to do more about the growing sexual abuse scandal involving priests in his native Germany. Several hundred cases of alleged abuse have recently emerged, and some German Catholics are demanding reform.
In Germany, Catholic lay activists and others are urging Pope Benedict XVI to do more in reaction to the growing sexual abuse scandal involving priests in his native Germany.
There are active investigations into allegations of sexual or physical abuse of children and young adults in 22 of Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses. In scale, the scandal is starting to look as big as the one that earlier rocked the Catholic Church in the United States, and some German Catholics are demanding reforms.
At least one of the cases cuts close to the pope during his nine-year tenure as head bishop of Bavaria. In 1980, a priest suspected of child abuse was transferred to Munich when Pope Benedict was archbishop there.
After some therapy, the priest was assigned to a Munich parish by the archbishop's deputy. A few years later, that priest was convicted of child abuse and given a suspended sentence. Late last week, the pope's former diocese says, it suspended that priest and his superior resigned.
That case of alleged abuse is among several hundred that have emerged in Germany. Accusers are still coming forward.
'It Destroys Trust'
Astrid Mayer, 45, says when she was a child she regularly attended church in a small village parish near Stuttgart. One day after Sunday school, when she was 8 years old, her priest coaxed her into a dimly lit, wood-paneled back room, Mayer says.
"He told me he wanted to show me the bread he was transforming into the body of Jesus. And this made me very curious," she says.
Mayer says the priest then raped her — a violation that left her reeling and dazed. As a child, she says, she didn't understand — and blamed herself.
"On my way home, I couldn't walk anymore because of the pain and I had to lay down on a wall in the street. And that's what I am remembering. I only knew that it hurt and that it was horrible," she says. "But, I mean, he was a priest, and I supposed he would do things that are right to me and if I couldn't stand them, then it was my problem. And I didn't tell anybody. No, I didn't."
For years, Mayer, now a mother of two boys, says she risked a panic attack if she entered a wood-paneled room. But she wasn't really sure why. She says it was only three years ago — through intensive therapy — that she fully remembered all the details of the rape that took place nearly 40 years ago.
"It destroys trust. It destroys the trust you can have in people. It destroys it completely," she says. "And, well, very simple things also. I mean, I didn't know I could say 'no' to men until I was nearly 30."
Trying To Bring Charges
Mayer left the Catholic Church in her mid-20s. She says the priest who raped her is now retired and has not been charged. She recently tried to bring charges, but says most lawyers won't take the rape case because it happened so long ago.
"He is old now," Mayer says of her abuser. "I hope he is too old to molest children anymore."
But, she adds, he is still alive and not too old to own up to his crime.
"I want him to confess. I want that he tells his church and his community — the community he betrayed — whom he molested and whom he did harm," she says. "That's what I want."
Pressure On The Pope
Many German Catholics want to hear the pope address the crisis that has so shaken the faithful in his homeland.
The Rev. Simon Rapp, the head pastor for the German Association of Catholic Youth, says the recent meeting at the Vatican between Pope Benedict and Germany's top bishop, Robert Zollitsch, left many deeply disappointed. Only Zollitsch spoke after the meeting.
Rapp says the pope himself has to speak in public soon. "He was bishop. He was theology professor. He is priest of this country. And so many people hoped for a word from him," Rapp says. "But he said nothing."
In his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope addressed Irish Catholics in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. He mentioned his "deep concern" about sexual abuses by priests in Ireland. He said he had written a soon-to-be-released pastoral letter to the Irish people that he said he hopes will help with "repentance, healing and renewal."
But the pope said nothing Wednesday about the widening scandal in his native land.
Christian Weisner of the German branch of the Catholic reform group We Are Church says the pope isn't speaking to the church as a whole about sexual abuse by clergy.
"The pope is asking for a zero tolerance policy in the United States, but he is not asking that for Germany," he says. "So he is sending out different messages to different countries. But I think the Roman Catholic Church is a global church. Pedophile scandals are a global problem. And the pope has to face it as a global problem."
In a scathing op-ed in Wednesday's edition of the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the renowned German theologian Hans Kueng charged that the pope should be held personally accountable for the secrecy and what Keung called the "worldwide cover-up" that has protected priests and harmed children for decades.
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