News in Germany [Berlin, DE]
June 7, 2023
A high sum is demanded in the Traunstein Pope trial. The person concerned is not alone with his financial claim. The beginning of a wave of lawsuits against the Catholic Church?
Two weeks before the scheduled start of the civil trial in Traunstein about sexual abuse In the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, the amount involved has become known for the first time.
A victim of abuse demands a total of 350,000 euros from the Archdiocese and the heirs of the deceased Pope Benedict XVI This was confirmed by the man’s lawyer, Andreas Schulz, of the German Press Agency.
Previously, “Correctiv”, Bavarian radio and “Die Zeit” reported on the claim and quoted from a corresponding brief. The plaintiff is demanding 300,000 euros from the archbishopric and 50,000 euros in compensation from the heirs of the pope emeritus who died on New Year’s Eve. According to a spokeswoman, the court put the value in dispute in the process at 362,000 euros a little higher.
The Role of Pope Benedict
The man states that almost 30 years ago in the parsonage in Garching an der Alz in Upper Bavaria, about the convicted repeat offender priest H. to have been abused. “The plaintiff was thus deprived of his happiness in life, thrown off the course of life and therefore sought refuge in drugs and alcohol with all its consequences for his professional life,” says Schulz’s letter, according to “Correctiv”, BR and “Zeit”.
According to the claim in the brief, the plaintiff should be compensated for “all material and immaterial damage” that he “arose from the act of abuse in the period between 1994 and 1996 and will arise in the future”.
Benedict XVI, then still a cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986, helped ensure that the convicted priest was reinstated in a congregation. This made it possible for Priest H. to abuse the current plaintiff at the time, according to the argument.
Ratzinger signed a letter in 1986 allowing the scandalous priest to celebrate Holy Mass with grape juice instead of wine. The Archdiocese had previously asked for this special permit and justified the request with the fact that the priest had committed crimes under paragraphs 174, 176 and 184 of the Criminal Code under the influence of alcohol. The paragraphs deal with the sexual abuse of persons under protection, the sexual abuse of children and the dissemination of pornographic content.
It is clear to critics that Ratzinger knew about the case and did nothing to prevent the priest from continuing to work with children. His longtime private secretary, Georg Gänswein, said the signature does not prove that Ratzinger read the letter at the time.
Who will take the place of Pope Benedict?
The Archdiocese of Munich had not referred to the statute of limitations in the Traunstein proceedings and thus cleared the way for a process. “The archdiocese is willing to pay appropriate compensation for the suffering of the plaintiff and to find an appropriate solution for further claims for damages,” it said.
The trial is scheduled to begin on June 20 at the Traunstein District Court. Until then, the court has yet to decide whether to separate the case against Pope Benedict. Because so far it is still not clear who will take over his inheritance and thus also inherit the lawsuit.
According to Benedikt’s estate administrator, Gänswein, some of Ratzinger’s cousins are possible heirs. So far, according to information from “Correctiv” and BR, a cousin has rejected the inheritance.
Attorney Schulz had requested the separation of the proceedings. In addition to Ratzinger and the Archdiocese, abusers H. and Ratzinger’s successor as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, are also defendants in the proceedings.
Not an isolated case
The Traunstein trial is not the only current case that could cost the church dearly: a former altar boy filed a lawsuit for pain and suffering before the Cologne district court, which was about a much higher sum, namely around 750,000 euros – and thus much more than what the church has been paying abuse victims to date.
For comparison: A commission set up by the Catholic Church in Germany has so far approved more than 40 million euros in so-called voluntary recognition benefits for victims of sexual abuse. According to the Independent Commission for Recognition Services (UKA), it was almost 13 million euros in 2021 and around 28 million in 2022.
In 143 cases, sums of more than 50,000 euros were awarded. In 24 cases it was even more than 100,000 euros.
The canon lawyer Thomas Schüller said in January that after the decisions of the two rich archbishoprics of Cologne and Munich not to invoke the statute of limitations in cases, he now sees a wave of lawsuits rolling towards the church: “Many victims of sexualized violence would now take state action strike,” he said. Should this happen, he sees poorer dioceses in particular in financial distress.