Senior clerics apologise for decades of abuse and cover up by Catholic Church
Priests abused hundreds of children in Germany
The Catholic Church faced a new round of turmoil on Tuesday over a hidden sexual abuse scandal after a damning report concluded that German priests had molested thousands of children.
Senior Church officials apologised after a study by researchers from three universities found evidence of sexual abuse by 1,670 clerics of more than 3,700 possible victims. Experts said that cases identified were the “tip of an iceberg” and the full toll of abuse could not be established because of the failure of record-keeping.
The report – first leaked a month ago – is just the latest abuse scandal to hit the Catholic Church, which has been criticised for hushing up allegations of abuse.
A wave of investigations was triggered around the world after the Boston Globe published details of a clergy abuse scandal on the US east coast in 2002 that led to the convictions of five priests. Further scandals have emerged across the world including in Ireland, Chile and New Zealand that has rattled faith in the Church.
During a visit to Estonia earlier on Tuesday, Pope Francis said that young people around the world were right to be angered by the Church’s handling of scandals involving both sexual abuse and fraud. He said last year that the Church had “arrived late” in dealing with sexual abuse of children by priests.
“They are outraged when they do not see clear condemnations of sexual and economic scandals,” he told an audience of about 1,000 young people in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
The German study scrutinised records over 70 years until 2014. “For too long in the Church we have looked away, denied, covered up and didn't want it to be true,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference said at a launch of the report.
The report revealed that more than half of the victims were aged 13 or younger and most of them were boys. Every sixth case involved rape and nearly 1,000 of the victims were altar boys.
"For all the failure, pain and suffering, I must apologise as the chairman of the Bishops' Conference as well as personally," Cardinal Marx said. “The study opened our eyes to the fact that this issue has not been overcome.”
Although the report was commissioned by the Church authorities, they refused researchers access to original documents and they had to rely on questionnaires to gather the data. The researchers said there was evidence that some files had been destroyed and many cases had not been brought to justice.
Echoing findings in other countries, the report found that suspects, primarily priests, were moved to new areas without anyone being told about their pasts.
Harald Dressing of the Central Institute of Mental Health said that number represented only the lower bound of estimates as many cases were likely never reported or not taken seriously enough to make note of them in the files. “The resulting numbers are the tip of an iceberg whose actual size we cannot assess,” he said.