Abuse in the Catholic Church: Meisner's Truth

The Teller Report
October 02, 2020

Former Cardinal Joachim Meisner claimed to have been surprised by the abuse in the Catholic Church. But this representation is now wavering.

When the abuse scandal of the Catholic Church in Germany reached the public at the beginning of 2010, Joachim Cardinal Meisner was in the Cologne University Clinic.

He had to have an operation on his left knee.

Meisner later said he had thought of a smear campaign at first.

And then it came out that the reports were well-founded: "That horrified me, that horrified me!"

A cardinal falls from the clouds: That priests, who are supposed to lead people to God, have abused children and young people - he would never have believed that.

This is how Meisner presented things at the end of March 2015. He sat in the studio of Deutschlandfunk, whose editor-in-chief Birgit Wentzien asked him about his life, from his childhood in Silesia to his time as a bishop in the GDR to his role as a polarizing force among Catholic conservatives.

The program was called

contemporary witnesses in conversation

, and after the last music Wentzien talked about the widespread sexual abuse by priests in all 27 dioceses.

"Did you know anything about it?" She asked.

"Didn't suspect anything! Don't suspect anything!" Meisner called into the microphone.

"You know, I couldn't imagine it."

At the time of the interview, Meisner had already been adopted as Archbishop of Cologne for almost a year.

He died in 2017 at the age of 83.

The description of the cardinal in the interview has appeared in a new light since last week.

Because in an interview with

Christ & Welt

last week, Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Heße reported something completely different from Meisner's time.

Interview with contemporary witnesses: Heße was HR manager from 2006 to 2012 and Vicar General in Cologne from 2012 to 2014, one of Meisner's most important employees.

"When the cases came to me, I informed Cardinal Meisner and the vicar general at the next opportunity," he said.

The cardinal, who had no inkling of the revelations at the beginning of 2010 - or the cardinal who was regularly informed by his people about cases of abuse: this is not only the image of one of the most famous churchmen in Germany of the past decades.

What Meisner knew also says something about what theoretically he could have done to structurally combat sexual abuse by clerics.

The cardinal had enough power in the German diocese with the largest number of members.

What did he really know?

In the interview, Stefan Heße was the first bishop to speak in detail about his role in dealing with cases of abuse.

The discovery of the crimes at the Berlin Canisius College, which started the scandal, was more than ten years ago.

Shock and pain have become routine for German bishops; Meisner's interview is just one example of this.

The high clergy always remained in general.

No one discussed concrete responsibility, entanglement and cover-up.

Everyone asked for clarification - but nobody meant it.

After all, Meisner's successor as Archbishop and Cardinal of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki, commissioned an expert report from the Munich law firm Westpfahl, Spilker, Wastl in 2018.

The lawyers researched the Cologne archives and questioned those involved.

It is part of the lawyers' task to finally name those responsible.

Actually, Woelki wanted to present the report on March 12 of this year.

But two days before he surprisingly canceled the press conference.

The Munich lawyers incriminate Heße, as can be seen from a document from the Archdiocese of Hamburg, in which the report is quoted: "This finding allows the conclusion that the inadequacies, including the lack of victim care, are not isolated cases, but regularly recurring, consistently ascertainable deficiencies in the handling of cases of abuse based on an indifferent attitude of Dr. Heße towards cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics, characterized by a lack of problem awareness. "


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