THE PRESIDENT of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch, yesterday said the German bishops had looked closely at the Irish experience of clerical child abuse as they try to come to terms with the burgeoning German clerical sex abuse crisis.
Archbishop Zollitsch was speaking at a Vatican news conference immediately after he had had a 45-minute audience with Pope Benedict, a meeting largely dominated by the sex abuse crisis that first became public in January.
Not for the first time, Archbishop Zollitsch apologised to the victims of sex abuse, while stressing that the pope had expressed full approval for the manner in which the German church was handling the scandal, including the appointment of Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier as director of a committee to handle sex abuse cases.
Asked by The Irish Timesif he and the pope had discussed possible parallels with the Irish Church's sex abuse crisis, the archbishop said: "In my talks with the Holy Father, we didn't talk about Ireland but in the context of the German Bishops' Conference we have talked about the Irish church's problems . . . and the forthcoming Round Table is to a certain extent based on the Irish experience because from the Irish we've learned that you have got to involve as many different social groups as possible . . . "
Earlier this week, the German government called for Round Table discussions on child sex abuse, discussions that will involve not just the Catholic Church but also a wide spectrum of social groupings.
Archbishop Zollitsch confirmed that the Catholic Church will be a more than a willing participant at this proposed Round Table, saying: “There is no other group in Germany which has a similar set of norms to ours, norms which have worked very well over the last eight years . . . We know that paedophilia exists everywhere, even in the family context, and in other professional categories. The Catholic Church has introduced a whole series of measures so that priests and those who work with the church are trained and prepared to identify these cases. I would also add that the Catholic Church is doing more than other groups which have to deal with this problem but the things that we do are not always perceived by public opinion.”
He said the bishops’ conference had sent out a questionnaire on sex abuse to all the German dioceses, looking for precise information as to the number and the type of cases that have occurred.
The archbishop also said clerical abuse cases in Germany would follow two parallel legal routes, namely canonical proceedings and the state judiciary.
He stressed that at no point would the canonical procedures take precedence over state procedures.
Dr Zollitsch also revealed that the Vatican’s Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith is gathering data based on the experience of individual countries with a view to a universal assessment.
Asked if the pope had been especially disturbed by revelations of sex abuse not only in “his own” German church but also linked to the Regensburger Domspatzen choir which was directed for 30 years by his brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, he replied: “The pope has already said that sexual abuse of minors is a horrible crime and he has been crystal clear on that.
“The pope is very disturbed and upset by the facts that have come to light in recent weeks. But this is not just a German problem, but rather one which concerns different countries . . . As for Regensburg, frankly I do not have enough information on this to answer your question.”