“We’re looking” – this is how the Catholic diocese of Aachen announced the presentation of an expert report on sexual abuse. Those responsible promised unsparing clarification and an openness to admit mistakes in dealing with perpetrators and victims. It is the first time nationwide that such an independent report has been published. It was created by the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl.
The diocese encouraged the general public to take note of the investigation and broadcast the presentation live on the Internet on Thursday; the incidents are extremely unpleasant for the diocese. The law firm identified a total of 175 victims of sexual violence perpetrated by clergymen and employees of the diocese for the period from 1965 to 2019. Often these were children between the ages of eight and 14. In several cases, priests were convicted. After they had served their sentences, however, they were reinstated in communities, where some of them had sexually abused children again. Bishop Helmut This stated that he wanted to take responsibility for these deeds. Their reappraisal should help “energetically put a stop to sexualized violence in our diocese,” he said.
According to the experts, the fact that the leadership of the diocese has long found it difficult to admit its own guilt and that it was even possible to repeat offenses had “systemic causes” above all. Priests could have become perpetrators because they have a quasi unassailable position as “mediator between God and man”. In addition, there is a problematic relationship to sexuality in the Catholic Church. The law firm believes that several former bishops share personal responsibility, including Klaus Hemmerle (1929-1994) and Heinrich Mussinghoff. The latter was at the head of the diocese until 2015.
The Archdiocese of Cologne commissioned the chancellery to conduct a similar investigation. There she should assess whether and how the responsible persons deal with incidents of sexual violence in accordance with the Catholic self-image. The Munich lawyers worked on the investigation for two years, sifting through all the available files. But there was no publication. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki canceled the presentation in October. The law firm “repeatedly failed because of its promise to achieve a comprehensive review of the events and personal responsibilities in the form of a legally secure and reliable report,” the reasoning said.
But it can be doubted that the lawyers actually did not do their job. Rather, there is speculation about whether a power struggle has broken out within the diocese and whether those who do not advocate a relentless enlightenment have drawn Cardinal Woelki to their side. In February he was open to coming to terms with it. At the time he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that he might have commissioned his own indictment.
The Aachen diocese, on the other hand, stuck to its position. It has set up a hotline for the victims and assured them of support.