Apology over sex abuse by Jesuit priests


THE RECTOR of an elite Jesuit school in Berlin has apologised to former students who were sexually abused by two teachers three decades ago.

Pastor Klaus Mertes of Canisius College in central Berlin wrote a letter to some 600 students who attended the school between 1975 and 1989, requesting that other abuse victims come forward.

“It was with deep shock and shame that I learned of these revolting, systematic assaults,” he wrote in a letter of apology, published in yesterday’s Berliner Morgenpost newspaper.

“Among those who had a duty to protect the victims at Canisius College, and among the order,” he said, “there was a culture of looking away.”

Pastor Mertes said he was first made aware of the problem after being approached by former victims late last year. He commissioned an internal investigation and said he was “shocked at the vehemence of the attacks” detailed in the final report given to him two weeks ago. He wrote to all former students and has encouraged them to go to the police.

“He chose this course of action after it became clear it wasn’t just a matter of few cases but that things had taken on another dimension,” said Berlin lawyer Ursula Raue, who has advised the Jesuits in Germany on abuse cases since 2007.

She said the two priests in question had since left the Jesuit order and are no longer teaching in schools.

Legal action against them is unlikely as the abuse claims fall outside the statute of limitations.

In a frank letter, Pastor Mertes said the abuse problem was aggravated by a lack of a complaints procedure within the Jesuit order; an institutional inability of critical self-analysis; an “obsession with church sexual pedagogy” and a “disproportionate use of power”.

The school was founded in 1925 and is located in the former Krupp headquarters, adjacent to Berlin’s Tiergarten Park.

It was closed by the Nazis in 1940. After reopening five years later, it schooled many leading Berlin politicians, judges and scientists.

Separately, a court in Tennessee has granted an asylum request for a fundamentalist Christian family who were refused permission to home-school their children in Germany. Uwe and Hannelore Romelke emigrated to the US with their five children in 2008 to circumvent an obligation in Germany for all children to attend a state or private school.

“They were concerned about things going on in the public schools, the bullying and the curriculum that they felt taught ideas that were against their faith, and were compelled to home school their kids,” their defence lawyer, Mike Donnelly, told television network ABC.

Granting the asylum application on religious grounds, the court agreed that the Christian family faced a “well-founded chance of persecution” in Germany. Presiding Judge Lawrence Burman said German schooling laws “contradict everything we Americans believe in”.

Mr Romelke was fined €7,000 in Germany after taking his three oldest children out of school in 2006.