Category Archives: Christian Hypocrisy

Study identifies 16 child sex abuse rings in Victorian Catholic Church

Study identifies 16 child sex abuse rings in Victorian Catholic Church
By Debbie Cuthbbertson February 23, 2020

Pedophile and Pedophile Pimp Cardinal George Pell

A three-year research project into paedophile Catholic clerics in Victoria has identified 16 child sex abuse networks operating over six decades involving 99 priests and Christian Brothers.

The investigation found that clergy paedophile rings shared patterns of behaviour with criminal gangs, the Mafia, terrorist cells, corrupt police, drug dealers, money launderers and price-fixing cartels.

The research showed their abuse was facilitated and reinforced by church hierarchy, including five successive archbishops of Melbourne from Daniel Mannix, appointed in 1917, through to George Pell (himself appealing against a conviction for child sex abuse) in 2001.

The researcher, Sally Muytjens, spent more than three years investigating “dark networks” of paedophile clergy in Victorian dioceses. She published the research late last year, receiving a doctorate from Queensland University of Technology.

Muytjens’ research found the largest and most active dark networks were at schools including St Alipius in Ballarat and Salesian College, Rupertswood, and orphanages including St Vincent de Paul’s in South Melbourne and St Augustine’s in Geelong.

One of the worst offenders, convicted paedophile and former Christian Brother Edward “Ted” Dowlan, was active in five of the 16 dark networks, she found.

Her study also identified Christian Brother Rex Francis Elmer as a member of two paedophile networks. The Sunday Age last week revealed that Elmer taught at Catholic schools in regional Victoria and Africa for decades after his order first knew he had abused children at a Melbourne orphanage.

In her thesis, Muytjens used a research method called social network analysis, which can reveal hidden patterns and ties between members of groups and provide insights into how they operate.

Using SNA enabled her to identify connections between clergy perpetrators and specific locations in Victoria from 1939 until 2000, unearthing what she described as a pervasive “sexual underworld” that had the potential to destroy Victorian dioceses.

Elsewhere, SNA has been used to map links between terror cells involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks and 2005 London bombings, and to track child sex trafficking networks in Britain, Italian money-laundering rackets and an Australian amphetamine trafficking ring.

It has also been employed to track the spread of contagious diseases, as well as population displacement after natural disasters.

Muytjens also drew on material from the Victorian parliamentary inquiry and the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, victims’ advocacy group Broken Rites and media coverage of criminal trials involving clergy, to map links between clergy child sex abusers in Victoria over six decades.

Her thesis examined the responses of the Catholic Church to such criminal activity, describing the institution as a “grey network” that repeatedly facilitated abuse.

“One of these patterns was promoting known clergy perpetrators of child sex abuse to senior positions which not only provided further access to victims but also placed them in positions where they were better able to protect the dark network from exposure,” she wrote.

The code of silence among Catholic clergy in Victoria mirrored patterns of behaviour exhibited by groups including crooked police and the Mafia, Muytjens added, and that “extended to a refusal to give evidence to the police”. “Similar methods were utilised by clergy perpetrator networks within the Victorian Catholic Church to maintain silence.”

Documented clusters of paedophile clergy, including at St Alipius Boys’ School in Ballarat in the 1970s, showed they were “conducting illicit activity in an organised and co-operative way”,  Muytjens wrote.

Dowlan and notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale both had multiple convictions for sexually abusing children, including at St Alipius. Another four clergymen were each part of least two different clusters of abusers at different times, Muytjens found.

“Some [clergy] committed child sex abuse at institutions where they were the only known dark network actor … [but] they were also transferred to parishes where there were clusters of other known clergy perpetrators.

“These perpetrators were part of multiple clusters at different times … As [Ridsdale and Dowlan] were prolific perpetrators, it can be reasonably argued that [they] were transferred out of clusters when subject to complaints of child sex abuse but were returned to clusters where they could be better supported and protected through stronger ties.

“Fr Ridsdale and Br Dowlan’s movement between clusters … [and] the number of convictions for these two clergy perpetrators demonstrates the unfettered access they had to child victims.”

The church’s pattern of response to complaints of child sex abuse by its clerics functioned as a resource for the paedophile rings, Muytjens found.

“Members of the sexual underworld support one another in seeking positions of responsibility by praising one another and condemning any critics … this sexual underworld is so pervasive that acknowledging and addressing this may destroy a Diocese,” she wrote.

Drawing on research from around the world into child sex abuse by Catholic clerics, she said the data showed that “clergy perpetrators … were placed in roles of recruiting boys to the priesthood”.

Muytjens’ thesis was completed around the same time as an investigation by The Age revealed that clusters of paedophile priests in Victoria worked together to sexually abuse children, including at Melbourne’s Corpus Christi seminary.

Her research was supervised by UTQ School of Justice criminologists Dr Jodi Death and Associate Professor Mark Lauchs. Lauchs’ research has focused on organised crime and corruption, while Death has also mapped paedophile networks of Catholic clergy, including among the Christian Brothers in Western Australia.

Associate Professor David Bright, a criminologist and clinical psychologist who has worked with convicted sex offenders, has used social network analysis extensively in his research, mainly in relation to drug trafficking and terrorism.

He said SNA was an effective tool for displaying links between overlapping abusers in the church: “The clustering that Sally found, it’s quite persuasive in that what it’s suggesting is that there were clusters of offenders in institutions and that this is the case more so in some than others.

“It strikes me that either these individuals were incredibly good at manipulating the system to be at the same facility … or the system was just so negligent about this and turned such a blind eye and was so convinced that these things weren’t going on that it just allowed it to continue.”

The Christian Brothers Oceania Province and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne were approached for comment on Muytjens’ findings.

“The Christian Brothers co-operated fully with both the royal commission and the Victorian parliamentary inquiry which undertook exhaustive work into the failures of our institution and countless others that enabled the tragic and unacceptable abuse of children and how such abuse was not properly responded to … we reiterate our enduring apology to those who have been harmed as a result,” said a spokesman.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said: “The issue of historical sexual abuse, across all institutions including the Catholic Church, has been extensively and comprehensively documented in the Victorian parliamentary inquiry and the royal commission. The recommendations from these inquiries, coupled with ongoing institutional reform, have helped bring justice and more effective redress for victims.

“Whilst we believe our parishes and schools are safer than ever, we remain vigilant and committed to ensure our practices, processes and policies deliver a safe environment for everyone.”

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue 1300 224 636.

Survivors stunned after Bishop Scharfenberger celebrates Mass with abusive priests

Survivors stunned after Bishop Scharfenberger celebrates Mass with abusive priests
By Charlie Specht

Never trust a person who can clear their conscience of any immoral act by asking forgiveness from their imaginary friend

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Buffalo reacted with outrage and despair Tuesday to news that interim Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrated Mass the day before with multiple priests the diocese admits are credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

Scharfenberger invited priests of the diocese to Mass and lunch at St. Leo the Great in Amherst on Monday. At the Mass, dozens of priests dressed in robes and concelebrated, or shared the Mass and Eucharist with, the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski.

“I’m so very sad and confused today,” said Stephanie McIntyre, who said she was abused by Maryanski starting when she was 15 years old. “This is an all time low moment that hit me just when I thought I was ready to begin healing.”

Maryanski had been accused of abusing McIntyre decades ago at a parish in Barker, and he denied the allegations. But on Jan. 7, 2019, the diocese included both Maryanski and the Rev. Mark J. Wolski on its official list of “priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse.”

Diocesan leaders previously said the priests’ cases would go to the Vatican, which makes the final decision on whether to defrock pedophile priests. A priest who attended the Mass on Monday told 7 Eyewitness News that both men — Maryanski and Wolski — were present, with Maryanski concelebrating the service and Wolski saying the convocation, or prayer, before the catered lunch. In 2018, a man said Wolski abused him from 1968 to 1970 while he was between 15 and 17 years old.

McIntyre said she started to cry and had “a total meltdown” upon hearing the news of Scharfenberger allowing Maryanski to concelebrate the Mass with dozens of other priests.

“[It] feels like justice was ripped away,” McIntyre said. “If the proof of my case doesn’t beg for justice, no victim will ever have justice.”

In a written statement released Tuesday afternoon, Scharfenberger said the gathering “was a private Mass…not open to the public” and added, “I deeply regret that this decision to gather privately in prayer and penance opened the door to yet another wound for those harmed.” Read Scharfenberger’s full statement here.

Also present at the Mass, according to the priest, was the Rev. Art Smith, who has been accused of sexually abusing multiple children (he denies the claims) as well as allegedly assaulting Fr. Ryszard Biernat while Biernat was a seminarian.

Biernat said Smith approached him Monday at the priest luncheon and began making bizarre comments.

“He asked if there could be mediation between me and him because ‘he never wanted to hurt me – he just wanted to show me how much he loved me and how much he cared for me,'” Biernat wrote on Facebook. “He said that he still loves me and it is all misunderstanding. I said to him that there is no misunderstanding. If you go into somebody’s bed and climb under the sheets and grab their genitals and kiss their neck there’s no misunderstanding there.”

Biernat wrote that when he worked as Bishop Richard J. Malone’s secretary, Biernat planned to apply for a restraining order against Smith because the priest kept contacting him after the alleged assault, but Biernat said Malone discouraged him from doing so.

“I have forgiven Art Smith, but to continue to hear how much he loves me and cares about me gets me so upset and angry,” Biernat wrote. “Why doesn’t he understand that this type of love is not OK? Why doesn’t he understand that this is not how you show that you care about somebody? 16 years after being sexually assaulted I still deal with this guy who would not let go. Sixteen years later I lay in bed and it feels like I am there again…”

Biernat said Bishop Scharfenberger was joined on the altar by Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, Msgr. Robert Zapfel and the Rev. Joseph Gatto, who was accused by multiple men of sexual misconduct. Gatto denied the allegations but acknowledged spending time at a church “treatment center” in Canada.

He was returned to ministry by Malone last year, but the bishop reversed the appointment after outrage by parents. Since then, Zapfel has quietly allowed him to assume a position as parochial vicar at St. Leo’s in Amherst.

Lawsuit: Former Providence priest trafficked children for sex

Lawsuit: Former Providence priest trafficked children for sex
By Brian Amaral

And, the suit says, the Diocese actively thwarted efforts to stop the predator priest, instead giving him a new assignment, to St. Martha Church in East Providence.

A priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence trafficked children for sex, using the guise of international charitable work to prey on boys at orphanages in Haiti and rectories in Rhode Island, a lawsuit filed Thursday says.

The diocese and its defenders looked the other way and actively thwarted efforts to stop the predator priest, the suit says. In one instance, a parishioner who later became associated with the diocese’s legal counsel reported leaving a party at a rectory because he was made uncomfortable by the presence of boys, some dressed in diapers, according to the suit.

And even today, the diocese continues to blithely minimize the toll of child sexual abuse, the suit says, such as when a West Warwick parish priest said recently that “pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone.”

The allegations are laid out in a complaint filed Thursday in Superior Court, Providence, against the diocese, Bishop Thomas Tobin, retired Bishop Louis Gelineau, and St. Joseph Church in Providence.

Reached Thursday, Gelineau declined to comment, citing his advanced age — he turns 92 in May — and frail health. He would not be able to analyze the issues or recall facts enough to make a comment, he said.

The diocese did not respond immediately to a request for comment sent after 4 p.m. Thursday.

The plaintiff, Robert Houllahan, a 51-year-old Providence resident, says he was molested as a child by the Rev. Normand Demers — who received the “protection and affirmative assistance” of the diocese and its leaders, the suit said. Houllahan is represented by attorney Timothy J. Conlon, who has represented numerous other priest-abuse victims.

Houllahan himself does not say he was trafficked to the United States for sex, but said he saw children from Central America when he was brought upstairs to Demers’ private quarters in the rectory of St. Joseph in Providence. Houllahan was molested there by two men, Demers and an unidentified person, the suit says.

Demers, who died in 2018, was included last year in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s list of clergy who it deemed had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.

Demers was removed from ministry in 2002, more than a decade after the diocese became aware he’d been accused of misconduct with minors at an orphanage in Haiti. He continued to serve as a Rhode Island priest despite the allegation, until a letter accusing him of sexual abuse at Fatima Hospital surfaced in 2002, according to Journal archives.

The suit says Demers was involved with foreign missions that had been described as “orphanages” or “schools,” but that were in fact known to the diocese as a source of child sexual-abuse victims both within the country and outside the country.

He brought child victims into the country as “sponsored” students and housed them on property supplied by the diocese and its leaders, the suit says. He also shared a child victim with at least one other predator, the suit says.

Demers used parish property to house boys, keeping between three and six with him and “sending back” at least one of them who rebuffed his sexual advances, the suit says.

But when people tried to report Demers’ conduct to the diocese, all its leaders did was protect their own, the suit said.

In 1989, for instance, a woman went to Haiti to become the new director of an orphanage and school that Demers had helped establish. She soon became concerned, though, because a teenage boy was sleeping in Demers’ room. Once she started working with the boys, she learned he was a “threat” to them.

The boys reported that he used clothes brought from Rhode Island as an excuse to undress and then molest them, the suit says.

She went to the police there, and Demers was arrested and held.

But then-Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Angell, at the direction of then-Bishop Gelineau, promised the director that if she cooperated in dropping the charges against Demers, he’d be brought back stateside to “face this,” the suit alleges.

Based on the promises that Demers would be investigated, prosecuted and punished on his return, she signed a document allowing him to be released.

Demers not only faced no immediate consequences when he came back to Rhode Island, he received a new assignment at St. Martha Church in East Providence in 1990. He denied the allegations when they surfaced in 2002.

Civil litigation has helped expose the extent of past sexual abuse, Houllahan’s suit says. But he also takes aim at the diocese and its leaders for more current statements, like the West Warwick priest, the Rev. Richard Bucci, who told WJAR that, unlike abortion, “pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone.” He later backtracked from those comments, but they’re cited in the lawsuit.

Pedophilia can, in fact, be deadly, the suit notes; multiple victims of clergy sexual abuse in Rhode Island and throughout the country have died by suicide.

“The long-term effects of abuse can have generational costs — first in terms of the costs of treatment and injury to the victims, but secondarily in the destruction to the lives of the victim’s parents and other childhood family members, and thereafter to the victim’s spouses and children,” the suit says.

‘Church is no longer a safe place:’ State prison for local priest in indecent assault of girl

‘Church is no longer a safe place:’ State prison for local priest in indecent assault of girl
By Sarah Cassi

Kevin Lonergan, center, seen here on June 8, 2014, as he celebrated his first mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Pottsville, Pa.Andy Matsko/The Republican-Herald via AP | For

A former Allentown priest was sentenced Monday to state prison for the indecent assault of a girl he met through his city parish.

Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos noted it was a maximum sentence of one to two years in state prison for 31-year-old Kevin Lonergan, who has been free on bail in the case since he was charged.

Lonergan pleaded guilty in November to indecent assault of the girl, who was 17 at the time.

In addition to commending the bravery of the teen girl who came forward, Dantos took note of a prior accusation against Lonergan in another county.

In that incident, Lonergan was accused of molesting a 15-year-old girl, Chief Deputy District Attorney Matt Falk said. But the girl and her family did not cooperate with an investigation and the case stalled, Falk said during Monday’s hearing.

Lonergan was transferred to Allentown, a practice Dantos railed against as she hit her bench in the courtroom.

The Catholic church’s practice of transferring priests accused of misconduct came to light in the 1980s and continues more than three decades later, the judge said.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around, most of it on your shoulders,” the judge said to Lonergan.

The diocese in a prepared statement disputed Dantos’ characterization of what happened with the previous allegation.

“Regarding statements made in court, it is not accurate to say that the Diocese improperly transferred a priest who had committed an offense. Father Lonergan received a new assignment in 2016 only after Northampton County Children and Youth determined that the accusation was unfounded,” the statement said. “The Diocese took immediate action upon receiving the information on this previous allegation. Father Lonergan was forbidden from ministry, and the Diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement under its zero tolerance policy.”

The victim and her parents described a life of service to the Catholic church, and how the community built around their faith made the church a constant in their lives.

The victim described the rage she felt and the sleepless nights after the incidents with Lonergan, and the repercussions she and her family have dealt with since she reported the crime to authorities.

In one instance, a relative of Lonergan’s contacted the victim through social media, and offered her money to drop the case.

“I can feel your strength. Sometimes that’s not always an easy burden to bear, to be strong,” the judge said.

The victim’s mother and father described their devout faith, of raising their daughter in a church and community they trusted, and how church became a place of good memories and comfort.

“Church is no longer a safe place,” the victim’s mother said, adding that Mass is torturous for her and she cannot walk into a church without crying. “Kevin Lonergan’s actions have taken away my sense of security, my belief system.”

Since the charges were filed, the family has been isolated, and did not hear from their fellow parishioners or any priests.

“The church that we so believed in abandoned us,” the mother said.

Lonergan was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Church on 11th Street in Allentown, when he met the accuser in August 2017.

He got her cellphone number from another member of the church and communicated with her, mostly via Snapchat, through January 2018, the district attorney previously said. The messages included nude photos of Lonergan and one video, Dantos said.

In February 2018, Lonergan hugged the victim at church — she attempted to pull away, but he pulled her closer and grabbed her rear over her clothes, prosecutors said.

After the victim told another priest of the assault in June 2018, the diocese reported it to the DA’s office and Lonergan was immediately suspended from public ministry.

A family friend of Lonergan’s spoke of Lonergan “humbling” himself to work at his Pottsville auto dealership. When the man said the accusations against Lonergan didn’t seem to fit, the judge stopped him.

Dantos said Lonergan pleaded guilty, and that the presumption of innocence was gone. She then told the man to take a seat, and none of the other supporters in the audience spoke.

Lonergan, in his statement to the court, did say he was guilty, of the crime, of stealing the victim’s dignity, and of the pain suffered by his family.

Lonergan asked for forgiveness, and said he would “never forgive myself for what I have done.”

Lonergan was a priest for five years, and was previously assigned to St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Palmer Township from June 2014 to May 2016. Monsignor Stephen Radocha previously said there were no credible allegations made against Lonergan while he was assigned to St. Jane’s.

A concern was raised about him in 2016 by a third party, but Northampton County Children and Youth investigated and determined that concern to be unfounded, the monsignor said.

“The Diocese offers its heartfelt prayers to the victim, to her family, and to everyone who was hurt as the result of Father Lonergan’s actions,” the Diocese of Allentown said in a released statement. “From the beginning of this case, the Diocese followed its protocols to the letter, and will continue to do so. Bishop Alfred Schlert removed Father Lonergan from ministry and immediately notified law enforcement on the day the allegations were made.”

Lonergan will not return to ministry. Now that the criminal case is finished, the diocese will submit the case to the Vatican.

After the hearing, and asked about a possible appeal, defense attorney Eric Prock said he still needs to discuss possible next steps with his client, but that all options are on the table.

FBI ramping up its Buffalo Diocese investigation

FBI ramping up its Buffalo Diocese investigation
Interviews sex abuse victim in another state
By Charlie Specht

The FBI is pursuing a “wide-ranging” investigation of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and its role in covering up clergy sexual abuse over decades, according to news reports and three sources who have spoken to federal agents.

The Buffalo News first reported Friday that agents have spoken with multiple victims of clergy sexual abuse in Buffalo, even though many of the alleged sex crimes happened decades ago. The victims said agents are interested in proving historical and ongoing cover-ups perpetuated by Buffalo Diocese leaders, according to The News.

“They’re really looking for proof of a cover-up,” Nicole Delisio Wright, an advocate for victims of clergy abuse, told The News. “Any type of proof that there’s a widespread cover-up.”

Wright previously confirmed to 7 Eyewitness News that she was interviewed by federal agents. Two other sources also confirmed that they were interviewed by agents from the bureau, who asked about specific cases of sexual abuse and the way the diocese handled them.

Stephanie McIntyre, a victim of alleged sexual abuse by Fr. Fabian Maryanski, recently spoke with federal agents from her home in another state, she also confirmed Friday. McIntyre has been offered a $400,000 settlement from the diocese for the alleged abuse.

“With the encouragement of others who are helping to fight for justice, along with lots of prayer, I realized that I had both a moral and civil obligation to do this,” McIntyre told 7 Eyewitness News of her interview with the FBI. “I believe I was able to offer them information that will be very instrumental. I continue to pray that my suffering, my story, will help others to be able to obtain the transformational justice that they need and deserve in order to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward.”

FBI spokeswoman Maureen P. Dempsey said, “The FBI cannot confirm or deny any matter that may fall under its investigative purview unless and until it is made public through a court filing or press announcement.”

Buffalo Diocese spokeswoman Kathy Spangler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

7 Eyewitness News featured McIntyre’s story in September in Part 3 of its investigation into Bishop Malone. Maryanski first met McIntyre in 1984 when he was the pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Barker. The Buffalo News reported her story in May, when Maryanski was still in active ministry at Nativity church in Clarence despite the allegations.

McIntyre, in a letter she sent to Bishop Malone in April, said the priest abused her for seven years, beginning when she was 15 years old. Maryanski maintains she was in her 20s at the time.

“My abuser not only robbed me of my youthful innocence,” she wrote, “but he destroyed my family.”

McIntyre hired a lawyer and reported the abuse to the diocese in 1995 but said she “was not offered one iota of help to deal with the fallout from Fr. Maryanski’s actions.”

Church documents show the diocese considered placing Maryanski on the list of 42 accused priests in March but officials concluded, “We did not remove him from ministry despite full knowledge of the case, and so including him on list might require explanation.”

The diocese withheld Maryanski’s name from the list and has still not included him on a list of credibly accused priests.


Part 1 of the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team investigation revealed that Malone returned Fr. Art Smith to ministry despite allegations of inappropriate contact with a child. Malone returned the accused priests to ministry after a previous bishop suspended him, documents obtained by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team show.

Part 2 revealed that Malone allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain pastor of St. Mary’s in Swormville despite multiple sexual harassment allegations by young men. 

Part 3 cited church records that showed more than 100 priests in the diocese were accused of sexual abuse or misconduct. Malone in March released a list of only 42 priests “who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”

The investigative series sparked Buffalo civic leaders to call for Malone’s resignation and Catholics have mounted weekly protests in front of the Diocese of Buffalo Chancery. Malone in August held a news conference and refused to resign as Buffalo bishop.

In September, the State Attorney General launched a statewide investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and last week, it was revealed the FBI has launched its own criminal investigation into the diocese.

In October, “60 Minutes” aired a national investigative story on Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo. 

In November, I-Team Chief Investigator Charlie Specht traveled to Portland, Maine. Malone served as bishop there before coming to Buffalo. There, Charlie spoke with advocates for victims of sexual abuse about how Malone had been accused of mishandling sex abuse cases. The I-Team also obtained new documents surrounding the cases which paint a much different picture of the bishop’s past.

Facing 250 sex abuse lawsuits, Diocese of Buffalo declares bankruptcy

Facing 250 sex abuse lawsuits, Diocese of Buffalo declares bankruptcy
Second diocese in New York to file
By Charlie Specht and Eileen Buckley

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which is facing nearly 250 lawsuits involving clergy sexual abuse, has declared bankruptcy.

Aside from the obvious financial implications, the diocese’s formal Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing means that many of the victims of clergy sexual abuse may not anytime soon get the answers that have long been hidden in secret diocesan archives regarding pedophile priests.

But there is still a chance that those hidden files could be forced as part of a bankruptcy settlement, as has happened in other dioceses.

Because the cases will soon be shifted from state civil court to U.S. Bankruptcy Court, survivors of clergy sexual abuse are likely to receive compensation, though it is unclear how much per case the diocese would be required to pay out.

According to bankruptcy documents, filed in federal court, the Buffalo Diocese is facing between $50 million and $100 million in estimated liability.

Apostolic Administrator Bishop Edward Scharfenberger appeared in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Buffalo Friday morning just hours after filing for Chapter 11 protection for the Diocese of Buffalo.

Scharfenberger later appeared at a news conference at the diocese with attorneys.

“I’m careful not to use the word bankruptcy, even though we are in a bankruptcy court, because a lot of people are under the impression that the diocese is running out of money – we can’t meet our obligations to our employees – which is not true,” Scharfenberger told reporters.

According to the court filing the diocese owes $3.5 million to a list of 20 top creditors. M&T Bank tops the list at $1.6 million, but the other 19 are victims who filed child sexual abuse lawsuits against the diocese. But there are actually more tahn 250 cases filed against the diocese.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Carl Bucki held what he called an “emergency hearing” hours after the filing.

Bucki called the bankruptcy an “extraordinary process”.

The judge asked if priests with substantiated allegations against them are being paid by the diocese.

7 Eyewitness Nee asked that question at the news conference with attorney Steve Donato responding.

“To the extent that there is a claim owned to a clergy on substantiated abuse list, which is on the website, to the extend that there were any funds owed to them as of today due prior to the filing — those will not be paid,” replied Donato.

Bishop Scharfenberger says Catholic schools and parishes are not part of bankruptcy filing.

“The health of the diocese is in the health of it’s parishes and the same with catholic charities and other affiliated agencies – they are not involved in this,” responded Scharfenberger.

The bishop says no parish donations will be touched and remain separate from bankruptcy.

“But not for the purposes of doing settlements — in other words – no money comes out of collections in order to resolve claims,” Scharfenberger remarked.

The bishop says the filing is “not a stunt” to deflect from the lawsuits filed against the church.

The next bankrupcty court hearing is schedueld for March 26th at 10 a.m.

The bankruptcy means the church could be forced to sell properties and to make appeals for more money from parishioners, but it also paves the way for the Catholic Church in Western New York to — after its debts are paid off — emerge from the crisis with its mission and services still intact.

The dramatic move comes after the Diocese of Rochester became the first Roman Catholic diocese in New York State to file for bankruptcy on Sept. 12.

It is no doubt one result of the Child Victims Act, which was passed in January 2019 and allows victims of child sexual abuse in all institutions — not only the Catholic Church — a one-year “window” period in which they can sue the institutions to prove they were responsible for the abuse.

To date, more than 300 Child Victims Act lawsuits have been filed in Western New York.

At least 250 lawsuits allege abuse by clergy or employees in the Diocese of Buffalo, making the diocese the most-sued entity in all of New York State under the new law.

In December, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned after an investigation of his leadership by the Vatican. Revelations about his behind-the-scenes efforts to conceal sexual misconduct came to light after his two secretaries, Siobhan O’Connor and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, became whistleblowers and provided documents and audio recordings to 7 Eyewitness News.

On Feb. 4, interim bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger announced the closure of Christ the King Seminary, citing financial pressures.

There was growing pressure for Malone to resign since August 2018, when the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team revealed that Malone:

The pressure on Malone intensified in September of last year, when the I-Team published secret audio recordings where Malone attempted to conceal sexual misconduct allegations involving Rev. Jeffrey Nowak. Malone called the priest “dangerous” but allowed him to remain pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians for more than six months with no notification to parishioners.

The diocese is also under investigation by the FBI and the State Attorney General.

Legion of Christ vows better abuse response amid new sex abuse scandal, cover-up

Legion of Christ vows better abuse response amid new sex abuse scandal, cover-up
By Nicole Winfield

Vatican City • The Legion of Christ religious order is promising accountability and transparency after damaging new revelations of sex abuse and cover-up that have undermined its credibility, a decade after revelations of its pedophile founder disgraced the order.

The Legion vowed to investigate the confirmed cases of past abuse by 33 priests and 71 seminarians. The Mexico-based order said it would reach out to the victims, publish the names of those found guilty of abuse in either a church or a state court, and punish superiors responsible for “gross negligence” in the handling of abuse accusations.

The measures described in a statement late Wednesday were responding to a burgeoning new scandal involving the order. The Vatican took over the Legion 10 years ago following revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, raped his seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cultlike order to hide his double life.

Recent revelations have shown the Legion’s abuse problem went far beyond Maciel. Newly public cases exposed generational chains of abuse and high-level cover-up by superiors who are still in power. The cases indicated that the Vatican envoy who was tasked with reforming and purifying the order was part of the cover-up.

In its statement, the Legion officially retracted the yearslong campaign it mounted to defame and discredit the original group of men who went public in the 1990s to accuse Maciel. The Legion begged their forgiveness and admitted it hadn’t made reparations to them all.

But the Legion’s statement included no specific promises to compensate the original victims or any other abuse survivors, saying only that it was prepared to pay for “necessary therapy” and other assistance.

As a result, former Legionaries and victims dismissed the measures as mere damage control. The Legion made reparation pledges in the past but did not follow through on them. The order also vowed before to change course, but Maciel’s old guard remains in power.

The Rev. Christian Borgogno, a former Legion priest who co-founded a Facebook group about the order, noted that most of the new measures merely conform to what the rest of the church does. In addition, he noted that the Legion is only promising to publish names of convicted abusers, not those who have been credibly accused, as dioceses and religious orders in the U.S. and Chile do.

“Essentially, they’re presenting as a tremendous step forward standards that are obsolete compared to the current practice in the church,“ he wrote.

The measures were contained in two new documents approved by the Legion’s leadership, which has been meeting in Rome for several weeks to elect new leaders and set policy decisions. They were presented by the Rev. John Connor, an American who was elected superior general in a shift from the Mexican control of the order that dated from its 1941 founding in Mexico.

Catholics still don’t get it: sexual abuse is not about sex

Catholics still don’t get it: sexual abuse is not about sex
Jean Vanier violated the Second Commandment, not the Sixth
By Robert Mickens Feb 27,2020

We continue to hear of incidents that more than suggest that Catholics – and, in particular, their bishops – have learned very little from the clergy sex abuse crisis.

This is quite alarming and depressing, because the Church in North America has been dealing with issues regarding priests who abuse children and teenagers for at least thirty, if not forty years.

Catholics in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia have been facing this “plague” for almost as long. And those in the countries of northern Europe began reckoning more openly with abuse among the clerical ranks shortly after the turn of the millennium.

In the last several years, Catholics in the rest of the world have also been forced to admit that there are recurrences of priest sex abuse in their countries, too.

This includes places in the former Catholic bastions of Latin America and southern Europe, the largely homophobic continent of Africa and the mostly non-Christian expanse of Asia.

It seems like wherever 2 or 3 (hundred thousand) people are gathered in the name of Catholicism, there is clergy sexual abuse in their midst.

Sex makes Catholics go blind

As Catholics, we don’t like to hear that. And we don’t want to admit it, either. But what is worse is that many of us do not want to see – or maybe we’re too blinded by culture and history to see – what sexual abuse is really all about.

It is not about sex.

I repeat, and ask you to pause and think about it for a moment. It is not about sex.

For most Catholics, this is probably even harder to hear, because we don’t deal with sexual things very well. Our confused Church teachings on the subject tend to either make human sexuality an idol or (and, thankfully, this is less common today) something that’s dirty.

Reactions to recent revelations that Jean Vanier sexually abused several women prove the point.

The French-Canadian layman, who was seen as something of a living saint for his extraordinary work with mentally disabled people, was not guilty of committing sins against the Sixth Commandment.

At least not principally, so it seems clear to me.

‘Encroaching intimacy’ and the false spiritualization of sex

The women say Vanier abused them sexually. But they also say he did this under the pretext of some sort of mystical spirituality.

As much as this was sexual abuse in the physical sense, it was even more a spiritual abuse of these women, in the way he used the things of God to manipulate or control them.

Jean Vanier used spirituality – what I have learned to call from my own painful experience “encroaching intimacy” – as a way to obtain what the other person would not or could not offer freely.

I’ve never heard any theologian or preacher speak of it this way, but I am convinced that this is what it means to violate the Second Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

There are people in the Church, especially among the ordained ministers (deacons, priests and bishops) or even lay leaders with a certain charism (like Vanier), who do this in a variety of ways.

Using one’s religious status

They use their position in the Church or their spiritual authority to satisfy their own self-centered needs or desires.

They do so – and often with little self awareness, it seems to me – by convincing people in the name of God to give them money, sex, honors, private information about others and all sorts of things.

Tele-evangelists who get rich peddling the so-called “prosperity Gospel” are the most obnoxious and blatant example of this. Certain scandal-stained Catholic religious orders that bilk widows and other wealthy people are no better.

We tend to look disapprovingly on them and rightly so.

Yet we fail to see how our own good priests and bishops – and other charismatic spiritual leaders – can fall prey to the same temptation to use their religious status (and, often unconsciously!) to feed their own personal needs.

And when I say “we”, I mean all of us Catholics. We tend to be blinded to this reality. We don’t want to see it.

In the name of the father

It is probably no coincidence that in a Church (and a society) that is male-dominated, the vast majority of those who sexually or spiritually take advantage of others are men.

The desire of men to manipulate or even abuse those who are weaker or under their authority – women, other men, teens or children – is probably also reinforced, even unwittingly, by the simple fact that men have always been able to do so in a patriarchal system like that of the Church.

Patriarchy and its first-born son, clericalism, have allowed men of God to violate the true meaning of the Second Commandment, probably from the days when the giants of our faith walked the earth.

They will continue to do so until women truly become equal members of the Church, equal to men at every level of decision-making authority and at every level of ministerial service.

We will not get to the root of the Church’s crisis of abuse until that happens.

Ratzinger and the Pedophile Priest

Ratzinger and the Pedophile Priest

A priest convicted of sexually abusing children says that, on a winter day, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is standing on his doorstep. Now, an investigation conducted by CORRECTIV and Frontal21 reveals the ties of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with the priest. The stories shared by alleged victims who came forward during the investigation show how the Catholic Church’s prosecution of sexual abuse within its own ranks is insufficient.

In the outskirts of the Bavarian town of Garching, the chapel in Simetsbichl is a whitewashed building with a gabled roof. Benches are lined up inside, where an aureoled Virgin Mary gazes from the apse to an altar with candles, flowers and guest books brimming with personal pleas: for healing, for a new job, to get pregnant. And then, on a yellow notepad in a child’s scrawly handwriting:

Book of petitions in the chapel in Simetsbichl © Ivo Mayr/CORRECTIV
Book of petitions in the chapel in Simetsbichl © Ivo Mayr/CORRECTIV

There is no date above the entry, so it is impossible to determine when the boy wrote his appeal to the Blessed Mother. Some requests in the books go as far back as the 1990s, but it is also possible to write at the back of an empty book. Maybe the boy wanted to hide his petition behind blank pages until newer prayers could catch up over time.

Today, Stefan’s note points to a time when Priest Peter H., one of the most widely known perpetrators of sexual abuse in the German Catholic Church, led the parish in Garching. Until 2008, the priest also lived and worked just 30 minutes away by foot at the Church of St. Nicholas in Garching. For decades, he abused minor boys at both congregations. In response, the Church simply moved him from parish to parish, allowing his behavior to continue.

In Garching and in Engelsberg, in Essen and in Bottrop, a new investigation by CORRECTIV and Frontal21 reveals how Priest Peter H. abused young boys at congregations throughout Germany.

Cool boys

The case of Peter H. symbolizes the attempts of the church to cover up. To protect the abusers. To maintain silence up to the highest rankings of the Catholic Church. Including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

In earlier investigations, the New York Times had already made a connection between the then-incumbent Pope and Priest Peter H. But this was already known to the Church. In a 2012 letter to the influential Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a copy of which was obtained by CORRECTIV, bishops stated their concern about Benedict XVI’s ties to the pedophilic priest.

CORRECTIV and Frontal21 revisited the case in recent months. Through interviewing witnesses and evaluating documents, we found that that the number of children who were abused could be significantly higher than previously acknowledged by the Church. We found that the connections between the Peter H. and Cardinal Ratzinger, who would later be appointed Pope, were greater than the Church and its representatives have admitted to date. For years, a close confidant of Ratzinger was in charge of a parish alongside the priest, never preventing him from surrounding himself with altar boys, fully aware of the risk. Church leadership was also complicit. In 2000, Peter H. bragged that Ratzinger had been standing at his door. Something that Ratzinger now denies. 

Today, Peter H. lives in a multi-story building in Munich alongside families with young children. A playground can be seen from his window. CORRECTIV and Frontal21 tried to speak with H. several times to ask about what happened and offer the opportunity to explain his position as new information emerged. But all letters placed inside H.’s mailbox since November 2019 have remained unanswered. To date, H. has declined to comment on new accusations.

However, documents available to CORRECTIV and Frontal21 show glimpses of what H. himself thought about his actions. The priest has been accused of sexual abuse in multiple places over several years. When asked about the allegations during internal questioning by the Church, he admitted that he is a “pedophile priest”, adding that the “entire world” knew. But then he curtailed the fact by saying that he was never violent, never penetrated the boys and never engaged in oral sex. There was only one exception. He downplayed situations that can no longer be denied and alleged that, in many cases, he was framed. He also blamed the spirit of the times: Dealing with sexuality was more relaxed. The kids talked so openly about sex, and they were “gorgeous boys”. This is how he justified himself, according to documents from the Essen diocese. In short: He claimed he was seduced.

Priest H. said the young boys’ open approach to sexuality gave him the idea in the first place and that the time he spent as a clergyman should not be downgraded only because of acts of abuse. He said he did a lot of good. And the Church let him work even though his tendencies were known. It protected him and showed him understanding and did not punish him, because such acts were assessed differently back then. He also said it is not possible for the Church to punish him now, so suddenly, because people think about things differently today – even if his acts were barred by the statute of limitations. CORRECTIV wrote several letters to H. and asked him for an interview. But H. has not responded to date.

The Pied Piper

Priest H. became popular with the congregation soon after he started serving the parish of Garching in 1987. Beside Garching, he was also responsible for leading the onion-dome church situated in Engelsberg, a picturesque Bavarian village nearby. He was considered energetic and was popular among the youth. People even said that women had fallen for him.

“I can only say good things about H., such a friendly man,” said a secretary who worked at a school where the priest had taught religious education. Others in the village said he was a good preacher, more of an actor than a priest. A “pied piper”. He always ensured that the church was full of people. The congregation adored him.

People who attended the church said that there was a contest among altar boys to determine who was the clergyman’s favorite. He gave the altar boys alcohol and cigarettes. He was committed to the part, going on stage as a carnival comedian and organizing processions. “He approached people, was easy going, so you simply had to like him,” said 71-year-old Rosemarie Anwander, who has deep roots in Garching. She was involved in the parish and contributed to the local village newspaper.

But then something shattered the peace.

July 24, 1994. A parish festival is in the works. But early in the morning, parish councilor Klaus Mittermeier, a committed Christian who is “enthusiastic about priest H.”, received an alert. On the fairground in front of the community center and on the wall of the rectory, someone scrawled accusations against Priest H. alleging sexual abuse. The exact wording can no longer be reconstructed today. Memories vary too much: from a ribald sentence to declaring that Priest H. loved one of the parish youth. Mr. Mittermeier only remembers that one boy approached him and said he couldn’t be implicated because he had a girlfriend. “But I had other worries at the time, the parish festival,” said Mr. Mittermeier. That is the reason he for addressing the allegations. The writing on the wall was quickly painted over, the writing on the floor covered with cement and a carpet. But suspicion arose and rumors spread.

Summer vacation began shortly afterwards. Priest H. called on parish councilor Mittermeier. He said that he saw himself as a victim and complained about his suffering. He said he would leave the parish if the rumors did not stop. Mr. Mittermeier wanted to help him but demanded clarity: He asked H. whether any aspect of the rumors was true. If so, they would find a way to solve the problem. If not, he and the congregation would defend the clergyman and “fight things through”.

“We were friends,” said Mr. Mittermeier, adding that at the time he was “enthusiastic about his way of preaching”. Priest H. denied everything and said that the rumors had no grounding.

The parish councilor and the priest agreed to fight the rumors. A handwritten speech from the time shows their strategy: “Refute the truth contained in the rumors”. Priest H. gave sermons in Garching and Engelsberg. He furiously rejected the allegations. If conversation between priest and believer are suspicious, then pastoral care is not possible; this is what members of the congregation recall about the angry sermon. He read it to every church in the parish and was met by applause, recalls Mr. Mittermeier. In support of the priest’s campaign, the councilor also printed posters with a warning: “Bad words kill souls”.

Despite their efforts, Mrs. Anwander, a former community worker, says that people knew something had happened in Essen, a previous station in H.’s career. She says that her daughters were also altar girls for Priest H. and although many were aware that he was going to therapy in Munich, “most believed because of issues with alcohol.”

She added: “The main thing: he was nice”.

At the time, the congregation did not know that Priest H. was being watched by the Church – or that he was a convicted sex offender. After being transferred from Essen to Bavaria in the early 1980s, the Church ordered him to undergo psychological treatment. “H. was not capable of individual therapy due to his personality structure, only group therapy was possible”, describes Dr. Huth, adding that H. “considered himself a victim, above all”.

Today, Werner Huth is 90 years old. He spoke with the New York Times and the Süddeutschen Zeitung about H. in 2010. His intention was to give no more interviews on the matter, but he said that new investigations motivated him to speak up. Dr. Huth, with whom H. attended therapy sessions, alerted Church leadership at the time and, according his statement, informed Auxiliary Bishop Heinrich von Soden-Fraunhofen that the priest was dangerous.

A few years later, in 1984, an official court case was brought against H. for the first time. It was filed by parents in the Bavarian town of Grafing. Accordingly, the prosecutor’s office investigated H.’s sexual abuse of 12 boys in just one year, which the spokesman of the diocese confirms today. According to his own statement, H. explained the situation to Auxiliary Bishop von Soden-Fraunhofen. The Church reacted: during the investigation, the priest was briefly transferred to administrative tasks and then to Caritas, a Catholic organisation for relief and social work.

Dr. Huth established three rules for H. during therapy: First, he was not allowed to work with boys. Second, he was not allowed to drink alcohol. Third, he must be under supervision. “It didn’t require any medical expertise to do this,” said Dr. Huth. They are the usual precautionary measures, something that goes without saying. Dr. Huth still practices in Munich. But H. obviously did not follow those rules, and a court in Ebersberg sentenced him to 18 months’ probation and a fine. With that, the state considered matters closed.

Then, despite the psychiatrist’s warning, the Church reassigned H. to parish work and transferred him to Garching. The congregation knew nothing about the clergyman’s criminal past. And again, H. was surrounded by children.

After the move, the diocese in Munich got word of new accusations against H. in Garching. In response to a request from CORRECTIV and Frontal21, a spokesman for the Munich-Freising diocese wrote that in 1993, it was recorded that “H. kissed children on the forehead when celebrating their first communion and that an older teenager is a regular visitor at the rectory.” H. denied the kissing. He said it was “a symbolic act without direct physical contact”. As for the visitor, he said that he “looked after the boy because his mother had erred in her ways.”

The Dazzling Friend

Although Auxiliary Bishop von Soden-Fraunhofen knew about H.’s pedophilia, he played a dubious role in the following years. After becoming seriously sick in 1993, he moved to Engelsberg — the village that, together with Garching, fell under the pastoral responsibility of H.

It was the same year that the Munich diocese was informed of H.’s behavior. In response to CORRECTIV, a representative of the diocese wrote that von Soden-Fraunhofen moved to Engelsberg for private reasons. He supposedly relocated at the suggestion of his housekeeper, who had good connections to the town. At least, this is what was told to the congregations in Garching and Engelsberg and reported out by the media.

But there’s more to the story. Dr. Huth told CORRECTIV that von Soden-Fraunhofen had said he would take care of H. after moving and was in “contact with Ratzinger”. The psychiatrist assumed that the auxiliary bishop would follow through on supervising the priest. When he later learned that H. was still in contact with children, he said that he was “appalled”. He could only explain this as “self-delusion”. 

Until his death seven years later, von Soden-Fraunhofen would continue to jointly manage the two congregations with H. A gilded marble plate still hangs outside Engelsberg church as a testament to their time together. 

At the beginning, H. was afraid, remembers Klaus Mittermeier, then- chairman of the parish council. If the auxiliary bishop came, “everything would change, he would control us,” Mr. Mittermeier recalls of H.’s statements at the time. But von Soden-Fraunhofen came and nothing changed. He kept silent and did not keep H. away from the children.

Parish newspapers from December 1993 even document how von Soden-Fraunhofen and H. intended to celebrate a children’s blessing: “Bishop von Soden and Father H. will lay their hands on all the children and bless them following the Liturgy of the Word.”

H. recruited the altar children himself. Boys and girls started taking classes with him soon after communion. Over time, he filled the chancel in Garching and Engelsberg with over 100 altar servers. There was no keeping H. away from kids in either town. He created opportunities for himself — and von Soden-Fraunhofen did not intervene. Even when accusations were written on the wall at the parish festival, the auxiliary bishop did not utter a single word.

One week after the festival, H. published a new issue of Pfarrnachrichten, the parish newsletter, and expressed his thanks: “To all those who have helped in any way, a warm «God bless you!»“. The church had raised 12,000 German marks. But in the margins, the priest had also published an image of a man rising out of the sea — holding two naked boys in his arms. It was not the first time this kind of photo made it into the newsletter. Sometimes, H. published a photo of a dreamy looking boy in front of a candle, others a boy in shorts and a T-shirt carrying amphorae or a boy’s face in a fragmented picture frame. While they may appear to be harmless to the unsuspecting viewer, von Soden-Fraunhofen knew about H.’s criminal past.

The auxiliary bishop was active in town affairs, according to the people of Engelsberg and Garching, who were interviewed by CORRECTIV and Frontal21. He attended mass, taught lectures and took care of the “youngsters”, always saying that he was “the chaplain”. But if at any point a dispute arose with H., the priest would simply tell him: “You are the bishop and I am the chaplain”. Following repeated requests from CORRECTIV and Frontal21, the diocese responded that “there is concrete evidence in the files that Auxiliary Bishop von Soden-Fraunhofen regularly provided positive information about H.’s activity in Garching without any complaints.” Regarding the “success” of supervising H., the diocese said laconically the result can be judged “given the known events”.

What Did Joseph Ratzinger Know?

The auxiliary bishop kept silent. Von Soden-Fraunhofen was born in 1920 in Friedrichshafen and later ordained a priest in 1953 — the same time as his friend Joseph Ratzinger, who later became the Pope.

A commemorative publication for the ordination still bears witness to the consecration today. When Ratzinger went the archdiocese in Munich, von Soden-Fraunhofen was appointed his auxiliary bishop. Their contact continued when Ratzinger moved to Rome in 1982 and was appointed as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The two churchmen exchange letters, sometimes with coarse expressions. In a letter concerning a dispute about a Christian sect which Ratzinger, who has just arrived in Rome, redeemed, von Soden-Fraunhofen chummily called the cardinal “Rindviech”: A stupid fool.

Ratzinger had known about H. for a long time. Years before the events in Garching, the Church learned of two boys whom H. had abused in Essen. At the time, he was working as a chaplain in the Essen diocese. Instead of informing the police, the parents turned to the local priest. The Church reacted by transferring H. to Munich. He was to receive treatment with fear of punishment.

On January 3, 1980, the canon in Essen asked his colleague in Munich whether H. could be transferred to a diocese in Bavaria. He said there was “a risk” with the chaplain and he must “undergo psychiatric-therapeutic treatment in Munich” and “live with a priest”. He wrote that there was no trial pending against H. and that he could “be used for prayer services and liturgical services in the congregation” as well as religious instruction in a girls’ school. The Munich canon noted in their records for the vicar general that the matter would be decided during their ordinary meeting on January 15, 1980,  and suggested that H. be posted as the priest in the congregation which he later served following his transfer to Munich.”

From the start, both the Essen and Munich dioceses assumed that H. was able to work in a congregation again. A possible withdrawal from congregation work was never open to debate. The decision was made on January 15 at the meeting headed by then-Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Ratzinger. The New York Times reported in 2010 that as archbishop, Ratzinger was aware of decision to reinstate H. in congregation work despite the risk he posed. The Church denied this at that time. Although “the archbishop of the time (and later Pope Benedict XVI) participated in the decision about the priest’s treatment”, Ratzinger was not responsible for assigning him pastoral work, according to a statement from the Vatican. A vicar general named Gerhard Gruber who also assumed responsibility for this. Today, the diocese somewhat dilutes the strong denial of 10 years ago: “The files do not show how intensely Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger involved himself in the case of H.”

Despite its denial, the Church admits one thing: Cardinal Ratzinger knew about the case of H. during his time as archbishop. And later, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger did nothing to protect the children of the congregation in Bavaria from the priest.

Ratzinger on H.’s Doorstep

This brings us to a notable encounter in the year 2000. According to information obtained by CORRECTIV, Ratzinger, who would later become Pope, met H. at least once when he wanted to visit his friend von Soden-Fraunhofen in Engelsberg. At the time, Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, the second-in-command after the Pope. Today he denies having met H.

The auxiliary bishop was already very sick when H. excitedly told him about his encounter with Ratzinger, said former parish councilor Mittermeier. He still remembers the conversation vividly: Ratzinger stood on the doorstep of the rectory in Garching and rang the doorbell. Mr. Mittermeier said that H. asked, “Can you imagine who was at my door last night?” Mr. Mittelmeier said that of course, he had no idea. H. told him it was Ratzinger himself. The to-be Pope had told him that “he wanted to see his fellow student von Soden-Fraunhofen.” However, since he was already very sick, he had not opened the door. Then Ratzinger asked H. to phone his friend. Subsequently, the cardinal visited von Soden-Fraunhofen. “But I didn’t know whether H. went along,” said Mr. Mittermeier. H. had also mentioned meeting with Ratzinger while speaking to representatives of the Church about child abuse in 2010. The conversation is filed in Church records.

At the request of CORRECTIV, the Archdiocese of Munich confirmed that personnel files note that Joseph Ratzinger visited von Soden-Fraunhofen in January 2000. “The ordinariate has no knowledge of a meeting between Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and H.,” wrote the spokesman of the diocese. After the publication of this investigation, the diocese of Munich corrected their previous statement: they confirmed that church files contained testimonies of H. about the meeting with Ratzinger.

The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI did not answer direct requests for comment from CORRECTIV and Frontal21 at first. One day after the publication of this investigation, his personal private secretary, Georg Gänswein, called ZDF and explained on behalf of Ratzinger: “It is correct that he visited the auxiliary bishop in 2000, because he was very ill”. But Benedict XVI never met H. in person, according to Gänswein. During the visit to the auxiliary bishop, they “did not talk about H.”, remembers Ratzinger today. “It was known that H. lived in the same parish where von Soden was”, said Gänswein. “Benedict does not know anything else”. 

Thus, the two friends, Ratzinger and von Soden-Fraunhofen, were in contact while H. served the congregations in Garching and Engelsberg alongside the auxiliary bishop. Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. But the auxiliary bishop died six months later, in July.

Following the visit to von Soden-Fraunhofen, Ratzinger did not do anything to remove H. from office. There was no question or concern, no investigation, no consequences. On the contrary: H. continued to work in Garching for eight years. He continued to train altar boys and teach schoolchildren. Parents entrusted their children to the clergyman. Thanks to his appointed position and the cardinal’s silence, he was given countless opportunities to surround himself with minors. It is not certain whether he molested more children. H. declined multiple requests for comment from CORRECTIV.

Barred by the Statute of Limitations, Forgotten, Dead

The Church only first intervened in 2008. H. was transferred to Bad Tölz, also in Bayern, where he would be a chaplain for tourists. He would no longer work with children. But the congregation was outraged, and many members wrote letters to Munich petitioning to keep their priest.

But the new Archbishop Marx insisted. At the time, the Church had just been shaken by the abuse scandals in Bonn, Aachen and Trier – and Marx had the files about the abuse cases sent to him. Unlike former Archbishop Ratzinger, he feels compelled to intervene now. Still, he did not make anything public.

But with time, word about Peter H. and his abuses got out. In 2010, the public prosecutor’s office in Munich investigated the priest’s sexual abuse of children in Garching up until 1993. Although the investigation was discontinued due to the statute of limitations, the connection between Ratzinger and H. made it into public view and the media put pressure on the Church, which finally withdrew H.’s permission to practice pastoral care. A Church court would investigate the alleged instances. Unlike German criminal law, the Church suspends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse. New victims came forward to both the public prosecutor and the Church.

Franz Josef Overbeck, Bishop of Essen, and Cardinal Reinhard Marx conducted the Church’s investigations. The case of H. became a matter for those in the top of the ranks. But it also not about the victims in this case. In 2012, the Bishop of Essen sent a letter – a copy of which was obtained by CORRECTIV – to Cardinal Marx, stating his actual end goal: “You, the same as I, know that the case of Peter H. is unfortunately linked to our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI by many media representatives”, wrote the Bishop of Essen. “(…) in this context, I would like to discuss and agree with you how we can ensure that Peter H. is accompanied and watched.”

In response to CORRECTIV and Frontal21, Bishop Overbeck wrote that he wanted to advance and accelerate the canonical procedure: “My expectations were that, given its dimension, the case of H. had to be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible.” When asked about the letter, Cardinal Marx’s spokesman said that the investigation concerned “the entire previous activity of H.”, thus including the “years of Archbishop Ratzinger’s term in office”.

Simultaneously, reports by those who said they were abused by H. piled up. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, in March 2010 the Ordinariate of the Dioceses of Essen and Freising investigated two cases. Internal documents show that the Church questioned H. that same year. But he remained silent on the advice of his attorney. He did not want to deny the allegations.

In September 2018, an article was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which referenced an instance of abuse in Garching. No location and nor names are indicated in the article. However, it describes a case in which the priest in question allegedly abused a 14-year-old boy during confession. At the time, the child’s father noticed how his son began repeatedly destroying the genital areas of plush toys. But the Church didn’t believe the father or his son. According to the FAZ article, the child received psychological treatment. The FAZ writes that the priest and the Church denied the allegation.

But one Garching resident backed the family’s claims. He was acquainted with the father. Another resident told CORRECTIV that he attended group therapy for people who had been abused with the boy. He said that in one session, the boy, today an adult man, collapsed. Several attempts by CORRECTIV to contact the boy were left unanswered. A spokesperson for diocese of Munich confirmed the instance to CORRECTIV and Frontal21: “The Archiepiscopal Ordinariate of Munich took the traumatization of those affected very seriously and provided financial aid.” The diocese did not comment on the fact that  the Church court did not believe the man abused. 

Altogether, information from diocese contacted throughout this investigation show that there were “three victims who had concrete accusations” in Garching: One instance that lasted from 1987 to 1993, one in 1994 and another in 1996. Two of the confirmed cases happened concurrent with Auxiliary Bishop von Soden-Fraunhofen’s time as H.’s supervisor, when he repeatedly reported that everything was fine. The diocese wrote that all three cases were closed by the public prosecutor’s office due to the statute of limitations, but that it made payments to the families in two.

Priest Peter H.’s child abuse has not been legally proven in Garching. But the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Munich II is looking into the allegations again and checking “whether there are further acts and whether investigations are to be started,” according to a statement submitted to CORRECTIV.

Insinuations or complaints remain barred by the statute of limitations, and people are still suffering because nobody believes them. However, reports from Essen, Garching, Munich and Grafing show clearly how Priest Peter H. took advantage of young boys: how he created opportunities for himself and abused his power. H. could contribute to the clarification. But he keeps silent.

In 2018, following emerging scandals, the Catholic Church released an internal study of instances of pastoral abuse. The case of H. is not the only one that shook the German Church. They had documented instances of sexual abuse in Berlin at Canisius College; in Bonn at the Aloisius College; in Aachen at a Benedictine abbey. They also recognized sexual abuse in Ettal and in the choir at the Cathedral of Regensburg. The news of systematic abuse in institutions of the Church came in fast. Cardinal Marx and the German Bishops’ Conference knew they had to act and agreed to have all cases of sexual abuse in Germany after WWII investigated by an independent commission. The study was then presented in Fulda, in Hessen. The names of the victims and of the perpetrators were kept anonymous, but the sheer dimension was devastating. Over 70 years, 1,670 priests and members of the clergy were alleged of sexual abuse. There were 3,677 people who had been abused. Cynically, the study notes that, on average, there were only 2.5 victims for every accused priest. But that’s only the number of cases that had been reported – the true figure may be much higher. A pedophile who is protected by the Church is unlikely to stop after just two or three abuses. The case of Peter H. shows that number of children abused by a single priest can be greater than 10 times that estimate. 

Indeed, the findings of this investigation show that it is likely that H. began abusing children earlier than is known and that more boys than assumed are his victims.

The Naked Chaplain

The coal city of Bottrop is located in the northern Ruhr area. This is where it all began, in the neo-Gothic St. Cyriac church. It was here that Peter H. began working as a chaplain for the first time after his ordination in 1973. It was also here, at a café near the church, that three men met one evening last October. CORRECTIV reached out people who were abused by H. and asked if they were willing to share their experiences. Now, they are in their mid-50s. They all know H. from when they were altar boys. They all claim to be victims.

Markus Elstner is one of them. For years, suppressed the effects of abuse, turning to alcohol to relieve the pain. When H.’s story first appeared in the media in 2010, and he saw the face of his former abuser flickering on the screens, it was like a “flashback”, he said.

Mr. Elstner comes from a difficult family background. His father wanted to the kill the whole family, he shot his wife before killing himself. From time to time the children had to stay in a shelter. Then his mother turned to the Catholic Church for support, where she met H., then a young chaplain.

He offered to take care of little Markus, saying that he wanted to help the mother. She accepted gratefully. So H. followed through: He invited young Elstner to his home and gave him cigarettes and wine. Then, porn movies began to follow. Finally, he would start touching the boy. Visits ended with fellatio, said Mr. Elstner. And while cigarettes and heavy drinking often signaled the start of an abusive episode, H. raged against drinking and smoking while playing his role in the Bottrop parish.

Elstner says he was abused on more than 20 occasions. Even after H. was transferred to Essen, he called the mother and tried to persuade her to send her son for a visit. He would even pay for the ticket. But Elstner, now 14, found the strength to fight back. He refused to go and convinced the mother against the trip. He did not have to get on the bus.

Dirk Bongartz also opened up about his experiences with H. It happened before communion. The chaplain invited him to spend the night, and his mother obliged, sending his older brother and one of his friends along, too. While the older boys slept in their own room, H. wanted to spend the night alone with young Bongartz. The chaplain put on a bathrobe. Finally, he stripped naked and lied down naked with the child.

“I didn’t like it, I didn’t want to,” said Mr. Bongartz, stating that he also said so at the time. It was only because of his brother and his friend in the other room that H. finally stopped and he was able to get out of the situation. “It was an awful night,” Mr. Bongartz said, adding that he  has not spoken to anyone about the event – but that at the time, his brother’s expression said: “Now you know what he is.”

The Guardian of Morality

For years, the pattern continued: Peter H. abused young boys with impunity and under the protection of the Church. Through wine and small gifts, he subdued children who, in his role as a priest, he should have protected. When the scandal threatened to blow up, the Church moved H. to a new location.

He had no need to fear punishment. Bishops and cardinals covered for him, always allowing the opportunity to look for new victims.

Even when the abuse scandals surfaced and shook the foundations of the Church, its members did not search for victims on its own initiative. In fact, H. has only been convicted by the Church’s internal court in seven instances – even though they have evidence from 23 people who alleged sexual abuse. In 2020, even the Diocese of Essen and Munich estimate there are 28 victims.

To this day, H. lives as a free man.

As the three men in Bottrop talk about Priest Peter H. at the coffee table, other names come up. Two brothers, also abused. One drank himself to death, the other is in bad shape. So-and-so and what’s his name were also abused by H. 

After years of the Church supressing the truth, Elstner wants justice. He has retained an attorney and is fighting for damages. So far, he has received 9,000 euros. But Mr. Elstner wants more. His attorney, Andreas Schulz, considers that the Church, with its constant denial and cover-ups, is to blame for the life-long mental devastation of his client. The attorney believes this also applies to others who have suffered because of the Church’s inaction. He is demanding 500,000 euros from the Church, and that statute of limitations for child abuse be suspended. He said that the fate of his client shows that “children repress this and only become aware of what was done to them much later, by means of painful therapy sessions.” It is not admissible that this should act as protection for perpetrators.

“For responsible individuals in the dioceses, it has been clear for years that H. was abusing boys indiscriminately,” said attorney Schulz. The case shows the whole “entanglement of the Church” up to Pope Emeritus Benedict. Firstly, Ratzinger was archbishop when an abuser came from Essen to Munich and was allowed to continue to work in parishes. Secondly, a confidant of Ratzinger leads a parish together with H., after the conviction of the latter, even though he knew of the risk. And in 2000 Ratzinger even stood on H.’s doorstep in Garching.

“The Church has done nothing for decades to protect the children. It has hidden these things and hushed them up and, from my client’s perspective, acted like a pedocriminal association,” Schulz said. 

Mr. Elstner puts it even more clearly: “For me, the Church is an institution in which pedophiles have been protected.”

This text was updated on February, 19, 2020 to add new statements from the diocese of Munich and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

If this story has moved you because of your own experiences with the Church, know that our investigation into the abuses of Priest H. continues. If you know H., be it from Bottrop, Essen, Munich, Grafing, Garching, Engelsberg or Bad Tölz, please contact us. Every lead is valuable. We treat all communication as confidentially. You can contact Marcus Bensmann at or use our anonymous mailbox.

Victims of sexual abuse or their relatives in need of help or advice in Germany can call the free number +49 (0)800-2255530 to get information about therapies and legal tools.

Onward, Christian Fascists

Onward, Christian Fascists
By Chris Hedges: Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister.

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”

The evangelical magazine Christianity Today, by stating the obvious about Trump, that he is immoral and should be removed from office, became the latest recipient of the Christian right’s vicious and hypocritical backlash. Nearly 200 evangelical leaders, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Ralph Reed, signed a joint letter denouncing the Christianity Today editorial, written by the magazine’s president, Timothy Dalrymple, and outgoing Editor Mark Galli. Evangelical Christians who criticize Trump are as swiftly disappeared from the ranks as Republican politicians who criticize Trump. Trump received 80% of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election, and in a poll this month 90% of Republicans said they opposed impeachment and ouster of the president. Among Republicans who identify as white evangelical Protestants, that number rises to 99%.

Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

Trump has filled his own ideological void with Christian fascism. He has elevated members of the Christian right to prominent positions, including Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Mike Pompeo to secretary of state, Betsy DeVos to secretary of education, Ben Carson to secretary of housing and urban development, William Barr to attorney general, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the televangelist Paula White to his Faith and Opportunities Initiative. More importantly, Trump has handed the Christian right veto and appointment power over key positions in government, especially in the federal courts. He has installed 133 district court judges out of 677 total, 50 appeals court judges out of 179 total, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices out of nine. Almost all of these judges were, in effect, selected by the Federalist Society and the Christian right. Many of the extremists who make up the judicial appointees have been rated as unqualified by the American Bar Association, the country’s largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers. Trump has moved to ban Muslim immigrants and rolled back civil rights legislation. He has made war on reproductive rights by restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He has stripped away LGBTQ rights. He has ripped down the firewall between church and state by revoking the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches, which are tax-exempt, from endorsing political candidates. His appointees throughout the government routinely use biblical strictures to justify an array of policy decisions including environmental deregulation, war, tax cuts and the replacement of public schools with charter schools, an action that permits the transfer of federal education funds to private “Christian” schools.

I studied ethics at Harvard Divinity School with James Luther Adams, who had been in Germany in 1935 and 1936. Adams witnessed the rise there of the so-called Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi. He warned us about the disturbing parallels between the German Christian Church and the Christian right. Adolf Hitler was in the eyes of the German Christian Church a volk messiah and an instrument of God—a view similar to the one held today about Trump by many of his white evangelical supporters. Those demonized for Germany’s economic collapse, especially Jews and communists, were agents of Satan. Fascism, Adams told us, always cloaked itself in a nation’s most cherished symbols and rhetoric. Fascism would come to America not in the guise of stiff-armed, marching brownshirts and Nazi swastikas but in mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the biblical sanctification of the state and the sacralization of American militarism. Adams was the first person I heard label the extremists of the Christian right as fascists. Liberals, he warned, as in Nazi Germany, were blind to the tragic dimension of history and radical evil. They would not react until it was too late.

Trump’s legacy will be the empowerment of the Christian fascists. They are what comes next. For decades they have been organizing to take power. They have built infrastructures and organizations, including lobbying groups, schools and universities as well as media platforms, to prepare. They have seeded their cadre into the political system. We on the left, meanwhile, have seen our institutions and organizations destroyed or corrupted by corporate power.

The Christian fascists, as in all totalitarian movements, need a crisis, manufactured or real, in order to seize power. This crisis may be financial. It could be triggered by a catastrophic terrorist attack. Or it could be the result of a societal breakdown from our climate emergency. The Christian fascists are poised to take advantage of the chaos, or perceived chaos. They have their own version of the brownshirts, the for-hire mercenary armies and private contractors amassed by Christian fascists such as Erik Prince, the brother of Betsy DeVos. The Christian fascists have seized control of significant portions of the judiciary and legislative branches of government. FRC Action, the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council, gives 245 members of Congress a perfect 100% for votes that support the agenda of the Christian right. The Family Research Council, which has called on its followers to pray that God will vanquish the “demonic forces” behind Trump’s impeachment, is identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group because of its campaigns to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.

The Christian fascists propagate their magical thinking through a selective literalism in addressing the Bible. They hold up as sacrosanct biblical passages that buttress their ideology and ignore, or grossly misinterpret, the ones that do not. They live in a binary universe. They see themselves as eternal victims, oppressed by dark and sinister groups seeking their annihilation. They alone know the will of God. They alone can fulfill God’s will. They seek total cultural and political domination. The secular, reality-based world, one where Satan, miracles, destiny, angels and magic do not exist, destroyed their lives and communities. That world took away their jobs and their futures. It ripped apart the social bonds that once gave them purpose, dignity and hope. In their despair they often struggled with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions. They endured familial breakdown, divorce, evictions, unemployment and domestic and sexual violence. The only thing that saved them was their conversion, the realization that God had a plan for them and would protect them. These believers were pushed by a callous, heartless corporate society and rapacious oligarchy into the arms of charlatans. All who speak to them in the calm, rational language of fact and evidence are hated and ultimately feared, for they seek to force believers back into “the culture of death” that nearly destroyed them.

We can blunt the rise of this Christian fascism only by reintegrating exploited and abused Americans into society, giving them jobs with stable, sustainable incomes, relieving their crushing personal debts, rebuilding their communities and transforming our failed democracy into one in which everyone has agency and a voice. We must impart to them hope, not only for themselves but for their children.

Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.