Norwegian Bishop Resigned Because of Abuse

By Daniel J. Wakin
The New York Times
April 7, 2010

ROME — In May, the leader of Norway’s small Catholic community unexpectedly resigned with little explanation. The Vatican on Wednesday said why: he had sexually abused a boy in the early 1990s.

It was the latest case to emerge in a clerical sex abuse scandal that has been churning through Europe in recent months, putting the Vatican on the defensive and forcing bishops across the continent to confront the issue.

The bishop, Georg Mueller, 58, left his diocese in June, has since undergone therapy and “no longer carries out pastoral activity,” according to a statement by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

Reacting quickly to a Norwegian press report, Father Lombardi said that after the abuse came to the attention of church authorities in January 2009, it was handled “with rapidity” in a process overseen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation “in a timely manner,” the spokesman said.

The congregation, which oversees sexual abuse cases against priests, has been the subject of scrutiny for how well it has handled such cases.

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig, who took over the prelature, as it is formally called, in central Norway’s Trondheim, the official seat of the Norwegian church, said in a statement that Norway was “shaken to its foundations” by the revelation.

While the Vatican says 3,000 priests have been reported in the past decade for acts committed over a half-century, Bishop Mueller is one of a handful of bishops who have resigned in recent decades over abuse charges. The most prominent was the Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who relinquished his duties in 1998. Other bishops have resigned over criticism of how they handled accusations against priests.

In the case of Bishop Mueller, the victim, now an adult, made a complaint to a priest in Oslo, which was passed on to the apostolic nuncio in Sweden, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig. Confronted with the complaint, Bishop Mueller admitted guilt, said Andreas Dingstad, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Norway, which counts 150,000 members.

Mr. Dingstad acknowledged that the church kept silent about the true circumstances of Bishop Mueller’s resignation.

“The official explanation was that the bishop had problems cooperating with others in the church, but that was only a part of the truth,” Mr. Dingstad said. “The reason for not coming out with everything was that the victim did not want that.”

On Wednesday, the Trondheim daily Adresseavisen reported on the case, saying that the church had paid between $65,000 and $100,000 to the victim in compensation. Mr. Dingstad confirmed that a payment had been made but said he did not know how much. The Vatican said the case was not prosecuted by civil authorities because it was beyond the statute of limitations.

The newspaper also reported that four other child sex abuse cases involving Norwegian priests have come to the attention of the church, dating back to the 1950s and the 1980s. Mr. Dingstad said two of the priests implicated have since died, and he said he didn’t know the whereabouts or status of the others.

Numerous cases, most of them dating back decades, have been emerging in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and France in recent months.

Bishop Mueller was ordained as a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and was appointed bishop in Trondheim in 1997. A man at the order’s headquarters in Rome said the bishop’s whereabouts were unknown, and then hung up.

Walter Gibbs contributed reporting from Oslo.


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