German report documents more than 3,600 abuse cases within the Catholic Church

Washington Post

September 25, 2018

By Luisa Beck and Chico Harlan

A report to be released Tuesday documents the sexual abuse of more than 3,600 people by 1,670 clergy members within Germany’s Catholic Church over a period of 68 years — and even those numbers probably underestimate the scale of the problem, the authors say.

Abuse of that magnitude constitutes one of the largest Catholic Church scandals in Europe. But at the same time, it is not altogether surprising to many church watchers. Evidence of widespread abuse and its coverup has been found in every jurisdiction that has launched an investigation. Australia, Chile and several U.S. states are part of the growing list.

The German report, commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference and conducted by researchers from three German universities, provides a snapshot not only of abuse but of the trauma and isolation faced by victims long afterward.

It also contradicts a narrative held among some in the church that the abuse cases coming to light now are all old and that the problem has since been addressed. The German researchers said abuse occurred throughout the period they examined, from 1946 until 2014.

“We are experiencing a very dark hour in our church’s history, which will hopefully result in a cleansing and renewal,” Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, from Essen, wrote in a letter to his diocese. “The dangers are far from being exorcised. We must fear that there is and could still be sexual abuse among us.”

Pope Francis acknowledged Tuesday that sex abuse scandals are driving people away from the church. Speaking in Estonia at the end of a tour of Baltic states, he told a gathering of young people, “We have to realize that in order to stand by your side, we need to change many situations that, in the end, put you off,” the Associated Press reported.

An advance copy of the 356-page report was shared with The Washington Post by Die Zeit, a German weekly. The report does not detail the experience of individual victims, nor does it provide the names of alleged abusers or those who helped protect them.

Critics say the study lacks the rigor of state-backed reports, such as the one released last month by Pennsylvania’s attorney general. The German researchers did not have direct access to church files and instead depended on questionnaires and other correspondence with dioceses, as well as interviews, criminal records and an anonymous online survey of victims willing to participate.

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