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‘The Pope Ignored Them’: Alleged Abuse of Deaf Children on Two Continents Points to Vatican Failings

The only good Roman Catholic pedophile is a dead one
The only good Roman Catholic pedophile is a dead one.

‘The Pope Ignored Them’: Alleged Abuse of Deaf Children on Two Continents Points to Vatican Failings

From the link https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-pope-ignored-them-alleged-abuse-of-deaf-children-on-two-continents-points-to-vatican-failings/2019/02/18/07db1bdc-fd60-11e8-a17e-162b712e8fc2_story.html

When investigators swept in and raided the religious Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf, they uncovered one of the worst cases yet among the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church: a place of silent torment where prosecutors say pedophiles preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.

The scope of the alleged abuse was vast. Charges are pending against 13 suspects; a 14th person pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, including rape, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case of the accused ringleader — an octogenarian Italian priest named Nicola Corradi — is set to go before a judge next month.

Corradi was spiritual director of the school and had a decades-long career spanning two continents. And so his arrest in late 2016 raised an immediate question: Did the Catholic Church have any sense that he could be a danger to children?

The answer, according to a Washington Post investigation that included a review of court and church documents, private letters, and dozens of interviews in Argentina and Italy, is that church officials up to and including Pope Francis were warned repeatedly and directly about a group of alleged predators that included Corradi.

Yet they took no apparent action against him.

“I want Pope Francis to come here, I want him to explain how this happened, how they knew this and did nothing,” a 24-year-old alumna of the Provolo Institute said, using sign language as her hands shook in rage. She and her 22-year-old brother, who requested anonymity to share their experiences as minors, are among at least 14 former students who say they were victims of abuse at the now-shuttered boarding school in the shadow of the Andes.

The Head Pedophile Pimp Pope Francis allowed hundreds of deaf/mute children to be brutally raped and abused by the very pedophile priests he and the Vatican again protected and moved around. This fucker needs to pay.

Vulnerable to the extreme, the deaf students tended to come from poor families that fervently believed in the sanctity of the church. Prosecutors say the children were fondled, raped, sometimes tied up and, in one instance, forced to wear a diaper to hide the bleeding. All the while, their limited ability to communicate complicated their ability to tell others what was happening to them. Students at the school were smacked if they used sign language. One of the few hand gestures used by the priests, victims say, was an index figure to lips — a demand for silence.

“They were the perfect victims,” said Gustavo Stroppiana, the chief prosecutor in the case.

And yet they may not have been the first. Corradi, now 83 and under house arrest, is also under investigation for sexual crimes at a sister school in Argentina where he worked from 1970 to 1994. And alumni of a related school in Italy, where Corradi served earlier, identified him as being among a number of priests who carried out systematic abuse over five decades. The schools were all founded and staffed by priests from the Company of Mary for the Education of the Deaf, a small Catholic congregation that answers to the Vatican.

The Italian victims’ efforts to sound the alarm to church authorities began in 2008 and included mailing a list of accused priests to Francis in 2014 and physically handing him the list in 2015.

It was not the church, however, but Argentine law enforcement that cut off Corradi’s access to children when it shut down the Provolo school in Lujan. Argentine prosecutors say the church has not fully cooperated with their investigation.

As Francis prepares to host a historic bishops’ summit this week to address clerical sexual abuse, the lapses in the case — affecting the pope’s home country of Argentina and the home country of the Roman Catholic Church — illustrate the still-present failures of the church to fix a system that has allowed priests to continue to abuse children long after they were first accused.

Corradi’s lawyer declined multiple interview requests for this article and did not respond to emails seeking to speak with the priest. Attempts to reach Corradi through his family were unsuccessful. The Vatican declined to comment on a detailed list of questions.

But Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse-tracking site BishopAccountability.org, said the Provolo case “is truly emblematic.”

“The church failed them abysmally. The pope ignored them, the police responded,” she said. “It’s a clear example of the tragedy that keeps playing out.”

Local church authorities are skeptical

As in Argentina, deaf students from the Provolo schools in Verona, Italy, kept their experiences of sexual abuse to themselves for years. But after they started opening up, they worked from bottom to top to inform the Catholic church, according to letters and other documents.

They wrote to the local bishop in 2008. Soon after, they provided a list of accused priests and religious figures to the local diocese. By 2011, a list of names was with the Vatican. By 2015, a list was in the hands of the pope.

The rumblings started with Dario Laiti, a former student who came forward in 2006 after noticing a new children’s facility in the town and worrying that abuse might be happening there, as well.

“I was the first,” said Laiti, who for years had made excuses when his wife asked why he hadn’t wanted children.

Soon, more than a dozen other former students were telling their stories, using an improvised mix of sign language and limited speech. Their accounts ranged in time between the 1950s and 1980s. As adults, they had become woodcutters, delivery men, factory workers. Some were unemployed. Few had sustained relationships. One of their schoolmates had committed suicide. 

One student, Alda Franchetto, said she had tried to confide in her parents years earlier — running away from the school as a 13-year-old in a burst of euphoria and explaining to them what was happening to her there. Her parents, she said, didn’t believe her and returned her to the institute.

“They said, ‘You need this to learn how to speak and write,’ ” Franchetto said.

By the time the adult former students started reporting their abuse, it was too late to press criminal charges. But it was not too late for accountability through the church. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008, informing him of their claims. Soon after, at the request of a journalist from the Italian news magazine L’Espresso, 15 former students took another step: writing sworn statements describing sodomization, forced masturbation and other forms of abuse. The statements named 24 priests and other faculty members, including Corradi. The student association said dozens of others had experienced abuse but did not want to come forward publicly.

The bishop, Giuseppe Zenti, was dismissive. In a news conference, he called the allegations “a hoax, a lie, and nothing more,” and he noted the association for former students was involved in a property dispute with the Provolo Institute. The former students filed defamation charges against Zenti and included their statements as part of the lawsuit — essentially handing the names of the accused priests to the diocese.

The case caught the notice of the Vatican, which in 2010 asked Zenti to look more deeply into the claims, according to church letters. The local diocese brought in a retired judge, Mario Sannite, to investigate.

“That’s how I found myself in the middle of this story,” Sannite said.

Sannite became the on-the-ground representative of the Holy See, asked to relay his findings — and his analysis — to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In December 2010 and January 2011, Sannite interviewed 17 former students from Provolo, with the help of a sign-language interpreter. He said the accounts were harrowing, and he later wrote that there was no reason to doubt the “majority” of the accusations. In the report sent to the Vatican, though, Sannite wrote that he had doubts about one former student, the only one who happened to name Corradi as an abuser — even though some of the others interviewed had overlapped with Corradi’s time at the school.

Gianni Bisoli, a then-62-year-old ski instructor, accused 30 religious figures and other Provolo faculty members of abusing him — a number far beyond the others. And his allegations were particularly explosive; one of those he accused was Giuseppe Carraro, the bishop of Verona in the 1960s and 1970s, who after his death was on the path to canonization.

“Bisoli’s statements were likely deemed quite dangerous,” said Paolo Tacchi Venturi, a lawyer who at the time was representing the victims. 

With the help of a sign-language interpreter and Tacchi Venturi, Bisoli spoke with Sannite for 12 hours, over the course of three days, according to records. Others who were in the room told The Post that Bisoli described the abuse in detail.

In interviews with The Post, Bisoli recounted that he was abused by Corradi several times, including once when he had been corralled along with two other children into a bathroom reserved for priests. In that instance, Bisoli said, he was ordered against a wall by Corradi and two other religious figures. Bisoli remembered Corradi sodomizing him with his finger.

Sannite assessed that Bisoli was certainly a victim of abuse. But in the report he wrote, which was sent through Verona’s diocese to the Vatican, the former judge said it was implausible that Bisoli could have been abused by so many — that the institute he described was akin to an “infernal circle.” Sannite noted that some of Bisoli’s dates did not match, and some of the accused did not appear to be at the institute in the years Bisoli described. Sannite also offered another theory: that Bisoli “repackaged his overflowing allegations by drawing from the collection of his own experiences as a homosexual” adult.

In an interview at his home last month, Sannite read from the report, though he did not share a copy with The Post. When asked why a gay man might be less likely to accurately describe abuse, Sannite said, “It’s not as if I can say there are differences.” Then he asked why he was being asked such a question. Later, Sannite wrote in an email that he did not mean to draw a connection between Bisoli’s credibility and his sexuality.

Bisoli, in an interview, said it was “offensive” and a “provocation” that anybody’s sexuality in adulthood might figure into an assessment.

Following church guidelines, Zenti wrote a letter to accompany the report to the Vatican, according to the Diocese of Verona, which declined to share it with The Post. But Zenti remained skeptical about the claims and said in 2017 testimony — conducted as part of a separate lawsuit — that even a word like sodomization would be “hard to convey for a deaf-mute.” The bishop also reported hearing a theory that the Veronese victims were behind the claims in Argentina, as well, perhaps as a way to “gain possession of the nice properties of the institute in those places.”

Based on the investigation in Verona, the Vatican punished only one priest, Eligio Piccoli, who was ordered to a life of prayer and penance away from minors. Three other priests were given admonitions — essentially warnings that the Vatican was watching future behavior.

A church official in Verona said the allegations against Corradi were not looked at closely in large part because of the assessment about Bisoli. “We acted on the broad premise that Bisoli wasn’t deemed reliable,” Monsignor Giampietro Mazzoni said. “In this case, perhaps, making a mistake — since we didn’t know then what would later happen in Argentina.”

One of the other former students who Bisoli said was in the priests-only bathroom, Maurizio Grotto, has offered conflicting accounts of what happened. He told Sannite he was not abused by Corradi and said in an interview with The Post that he was. Another former Provolo student, Franchetto, said in an interview that she was molested by Corradi but had tried for years, “as a measure of self-defense,” to forget his face. She did not tell the Vatican investigator about her experiences. The president of the association representing the Italian victims, Giorgio Dalla Bernardina, said he knows of other Corradi victims who have been unwilling to speak publicly. 

Lawyers involved in the case and experts on clerical abuse say the church failed to examine whether the pattern of abuse in Italy was playing out at the overseas Provolo locations where Italian priests had been sent. Some dioceses in the United States report abuse accusations to law enforcement no matter what — even if the accused priest is deceased or if the statute of limitations has expired — and suspend priests from ministry as accusations are being investigated. The Diocese of Verona said it did not contact law enforcement.

Tacchi Venturi, the lawyer who had represented the victims during the hearing, said the Vatican made one other error — a “logic contradiction” — by acknowledging that Bisoli was abused but not looking into who might have abused him.

“If you say he suffered abuses, and you believe he was a victim, and he says he was abused by people, then you hear them all,” Tacchi Venturi said, noting that the task was easier because only some of the accused were still alive. “You go on and interrogate all of them.”

Pope Francis asks the victims to pray for him

The Italian victims believed that if anybody could better handle abuse cases, it was Francis, who was selected as leader of the church in 2013 — two years after the Verona inquiry — and who announced the creation of a new commission on child protection. The former Provolo students wrote to Francis in late 2013, giving a broad timeline of their case. They said they didn’t hear anything back. In 2014, according to postal receipts, they tried again, with more direct language — mailing to the pontiff’s Vatican address a list of the 14 alleged abusers they felt had gone largely unpunished. They received no response from Francis or others in the Vatican.

So, in October 2015, 20 people from Verona — most of them victims of abuse — boarded a train to Rome. They had no certainty of meeting the pope, but they targeted a day the Vatican was recognizing people with disabilities. And indeed, after Francis held Mass at St. Peter’s Square, a Vatican official invited two of the people from Verona to a small event with the pontiff. Paola Lodi Rizzini and Giuseppe Consiglio took their place near the stage of Paul VI Audience Hall holding a letter — later reviewed by The Post — listing the same 14 names.

Consiglio, now 29, was the youngest of the victims from Verona. He’d attended school in the late 1990s, and he had come forward in 2012 — after the Vatican’s investigation. But he was upset with the Vatican’s response. He said he wanted the Vatican to “open its eyes” and “close the schools.” He told The Post that his own childhood had unraveled because of abuse. He said he was raped hundreds of times by a priest who was “rough” but careful not to get Consiglio’s blood on his cassock. Consiglio tried to jump out a school window when he was 12 but was stopped by a nun. He was treated with antipsychotics. Into his adulthood, he lived at home, with few friends. He was so terrified of being locked into rooms that he hoarded his family’s keys.

Then, inside the Vatican, he was eye to eye with Francis. 

Lodi Rizzini recalls speaking first and telling the pontiff they were there representing a victims’ group from Verona.

“I said, ‘Giuseppe is a victim of sexual abuse, and he has a letter from all victims,’ ” Lodi Rizzini said. 

Consiglio handed Francis the envelope. A Vatican photographer documented the moment.

The letter inside appealed to the pontiff by saying the church’s behavior in their case was “absolutely not aligned with the zero tolerance of Pope Francis.” It said the church had let priests and other religious figures who had abused them go on to live “normal lives.” 

Then a paragraph listed 14 priests and lay brothers that the victims believed were still alive. The list included Consiglio’s own alleged abuser, a handful of figures who had not been punished in Italy and four said to be in Argentina — including Corradi.

Lodi Rizzini and Consiglio remember Francis receiving the letter and handing it off to a deputy without opening it. Photos show Francis blessing both Lodi Rizzini and Consiglio by touching them on the head. Both of them remember Francis, before walking away, saying, “Pray for me.” 

People involved in the case say the former students’ plea did not appear to prompt the church to take a closer look at any of the named priests.

Four months later, in February 2016, a letter arrived in Verona from one of Francis’s close lieutenants, then-Bishop Angelo Becciu, who held a key position in the Secretariat of State. Becciu wrote that His Holiness “welcomed with lively participation what you wanted to confide in Him.” 

“He wishes to remind you,” the letter continued, “of what the Holy See has done and keeps on doing with unwavering commitment on clerical sexual abuses, operating in support of the victims’ tragedies and to prevent the sad phenomenon.”

Law enforcement responds

In the early 1960s, the Provolo Institute in Verona dismissed one priest and another faculty member for “moral inadequacy,” church officials say. But there is no evidence, according to church records, that the Company of Mary knew of the allegations against Corradi when it transferred him from Italy to Argentina in 1970. Even if something had been known, “I doubt there would have been an explicit mention in the archive,” said Mazzoni, the chief judicial figure in the Diocese of Verona.

In Argentina, Corradi initially taught at a Provolo Institute for the Deaf in La Plata, a provincial city an hour’s drive from the belle époque buildings of Buenos Aires. Following the disclosures of widespread abuse in Lujan de Cuyo in 2016, La Plata authorities launched an investigation that has uncovered allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment, dating back to the 1980s, against at least five men who worked at the school, including Corradi and another Italian cleric.

The other Italian — Elisio Pirmati — was also named by Verona students in the letters sent to the pope. Maria Corfield, the prosecutor in the La Plata case, said Pirmati has returned to Italy and is living in retirement at the Verona Provolo — which is no longer active as an institute for the deaf but rents space to another school. Efforts by The Post to contact him were unsuccessful.

Thus far, Corradi has been accused of sexual abuse by two alumni of the school in La Plata. Prosecutors received a report of another alleged Corradi victim who killed himself as an adult. While in total 10 alleged victims from the La Plata school have come forward, Corfield said she has spoken to other apparent victims who have resisted getting involved.

“They say they have families now and don’t want to explain,” she said.

Lisandro Borelli, now 40, entered the La Plata Provolo as a student in 1989 after becoming clinically deaf due to severe beatings from his parents. In an interview, he recalled Corradi placing him on his knee and fondling his genitals during lessons when the priest would also insert fingers into his mouth to try to teach him how to pronounce words. 

Once, he said, he was punished at the school by being locked in a cage for two days without food. In a separate incident, he said he was thrown down a staircase in an act of intimidation after catching a priest at the school raping his roommate. 

“When we found out this started in Italy, we were surprised,” Borelli said in sign language. “Now I think about it and say, was this happening at other Provolo institutes?” 

In 1994, Corradi’s religious congregation sent him to set up a new Provolo Institute in western Argentina. The school — a sprawling brick compound surrounded by high walls that served as both a boarding and day school for dozens of deaf children — opened in 1998, with Corradi as spiritual director.

In the fluorescent-lit halls lined with polished tiles, Corradi first lured one boy to his room when he was around 7 years old, according to the alleged victim, who today is a shy and delicate 22-year-old. In an interview with The Post, the man recalled his confusion as Corradi undressed him, followed by the searing pain of rape. Afterward, Corradi gave him a toy — a small blue pickup truck. “I couldn’t look him in the eye,” the man said, using sign language. “It scared me. It disgusted me.” 

He said he was raped regularly for the next five years. He recalled that during the ordeals, he would stare at a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus not far from Corradi’s bed. He said he could see Corradi speaking words he could not hear or understand.

The school did not teach sign language — instead embracing a methodology that sought to teach deaf children to read and speak like the hearing. That system, prosecutors say, was also ideal for hiding abuse. Abused pupils say they learned sign language in secret from older students, but even that was of little help. 

The 22-year-old man and his sister — the 24-year-old who wanted Francis to come to Argentina and see what happened there, and who said she was raped as a child by another Provolo employee — came from a poor family whose parents had limited knowledge of sign language. 

“We didn’t want to go to school, but our parents were convinced it was the best for us,” said the sister. “So we were mistreated at home. We were hit because our parents just thought we didn’t want to go to school.”

Prosecutors say that as spiritual director of the school, Corradi not only took part in abuses, but facilitated access to children for other sexual predators working at the school.

Prosecutors and victims allege that under Corradi’s direction, a Japanese nun, Kosaka Kumiko, would groom the most docile children. She would touch them, and have them touch themselves and each other. Kumiko has maintained her innocence in court.

Also among the alleged abusers in Lujan is a deaf and mentally challenged man, now in his 40s, who prosecutors say had been abandoned as a child at the Provolo Institute in La Plata. They say the man told other victims he had been abused by Corradi there. And when Corradi made him a gardener at the new Provolo school in Lujan, the man is alleged to have begun to abuse other children.

The worst cases of abuse documented by prosecutors at Lujan occurred between 2004 and 2009. During those years, Francis served as Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, a diocese some 700 miles southeast of Lujan de Cuyo, and would not have been accountable for actions at the school. However, the allegations in Argentina of abuse and corruption of minors stretch beyond when the church was warned and well after the Italian victims sought to alert Francis directly in 2013. The most recent incident involving Corradi is alleged to have involved the distribution of pornography to children in 2013. Other suspects also allegedly touched students inappropriately in 2015 and 2016.

The church’s inaction allowed the alleged abusers to remain in daily contact with children — until a distraught former student went to Argentine authorities.

The rail-thin 27-year-old, who, like other victims, spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she had been raped by an Argentine priest who served under Corradi. In an interview, she said that for years she considered killing herself — even writing a suicide note to her parents before standing on a bluff by a river and weighing whether to jump. 

“I felt like water, as if I was nothing,” she said in sign language in her lawyer’s office in Mendoza, Argentina. “I wanted to kill myself, but I had to keep living with it, every year.” 

A friend, she said, convinced her that what she and other victims really needed was justice. So, in November 2016, she walked into a state center for people with disabilities and requested a sign-language interpreter. They would later go together to the state parliament, where, on Nov. 24, 2016, they met with a state senator who sounded the alarm. 

Rapidly acting on her testimony, prosecutors raided the school two days later — finding pornography and letters that implicated one of Corradi’s associates, Father Horacio Corbacho, a 58-year-old Argentine priest. In court filings, one sexually suggestive letter, apparently written by someone familiar with the abuse, asks Corbacho “how much more silence can you ask of a deaf mute?

Jorge Bordon, Corradi’s 62-year-old driver, last year pleaded guilty to 11 counts of abuse. His confession effectively implicated some of the other defendants, though Corbacho, Kumiko and others have denied the accusations. Corradi — under house arrest at an undisclosed location in Argentina and facing six counts of aggravated abuse — has yet to enter a plea. 

The Rev. Alberto Germán Bochatey, a bishop appointed by the pope to oversee the Provolo schools in the aftermath of the scandal, said Corradi believes himself to be innocent.

“He feels destroyed,” said Bochatey, who last met with Corradi two months ago. “He built that school.” 

After Argentine authorities shut down the Lujan school in November 2016, the Vatican appointed two priests to conduct an internal investigation that is still ongoing. Prosecutors say church officials in Argentina have declined their request to share the findings.

Bochatey, who is not involved in the investigation, denied a lack of church cooperation. He said he received a request for the report and replied in a letter to prosecutors that it needed to be submitted directly to the Vatican. He said he did not forward the request. Stroppiana, the prosecutor, said he has no recollection of receiving a response from Bochatey or any other church authorities.

Bochatey blamed prosecutors and victims’ lawyers for overstating the scope of the allegations. He suggested Freemasons — members of a fraternal order known for secret rituals and community service that the Catholic Church has long viewed as antagonists — were somehow behind the accusations, although he acknowledged the church had no “proof.”

“We think the Masonic order was behind it,” he said. “We cannot understand why [the accusations] are so direct and intense. They try to build a big case that [it was a] house of horrors, 40 or 50 cases, but there are little more than 10.” 

He added, “I spoke with many parents who said their kids were happy. They didn’t want their school to close.” He continued, “I think something happened, but not the way they’re trying to show.” 

He defended the school’s approach to teaching the deaf, saying the point was for them to read and speak. Perhaps some teachers had been too strict, he said. 

“Maybe sometimes a teacher did wrong,” he said.

The church, he said, has not only been forced to close the school in Lujan but also sell the land it sits on.

“We’re paying expensively for our mistake,” he said.

Harlan and Pitrelli reported from Verona, Italy. Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela, and Natalio Cosoy, in Buenos Aires, contributed to this report. 

Spanish bishops react to newspaper report alleging abuse by 251 priests

From the link: https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2021/12/spanish-bishops-react-to-newspaper-report-alleging-abuse-by-251-priests

On Dec. 2, a Rome-based Spanish journalist handed Pope Francis a journalistic inquiry of abuse allegations against 251 priests, arguably the largest investigation into clerical sexual abuse conducted in Spain to date.

On Sunday, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni sent out a statement to a group of journalists saying that the report had been sent to “the competent authorities” so that it can proceed according to the “canonical norms in force, opportunely updated in recent years.” 

“The Holy Father has always insisted on his attention and closeness to the victims of abuse, with words, prayer and many gestures,” the head of the Vatican press office stressed in his message.

The Vatican has not specified to which “instances” it has forwarded the document documenting the abuses, but in virtually every case, sexual abuse against minors committed by a Catholic priest are investigated and tried by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Danuel Verdu, journalist of Spanish newspaper El Pais, handed Francis the report during the pontiff’s trip to Cyprus and Greece.

According to the newspaper, the investigation presented to the pope is “unprecedented” for the Church in Spain, as it includes allegations made against 251 members of the clergy and some lay people from religious institutions of sexual abuse against minors. The investigation was open in Oct. 2018.

The report was also given to Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona and president of the bishops conference, who immediately transmitted the report to the ecclesiastical court of Barcelona, where it was registered, to initiate the investigation.

The inquiries will have to branch out according to the competent ecclesiastical entity, since they affect 31 religious orders and 31 dioceses.

Several unnamed sources consulted by Spanish news outlets not related to El Pais argued that victims and survivors went to the newspaper, but not the Church, making any a priori response to the accusations virtually impossible. For instance, Catholic weekly Vida Nueva spoke of a lack of “fair play,” quoting a source arguing that when the El Pais did reach out, they ignored requests to be bridges between the institution and those making the allegations.

This helps explain why the bishops conference detached itself from the investigation, saying that though they encourage the reporting by victims of clerical sexual abuse and welcomes initiatives that seek to end the problem, “greater rigor” would have been desirable from El Pais, one of Spain’s major newspapers.

“It would be desirable that the accusations contained in the aforementioned report have greater rigor, since its content, very disparate in nature, makes it difficult to draw conclusions that could serve a possible investigation. Especially when the names of the accused are missing, the years in which the abuses occurred or refers to deceased persons,” the conference said in a statement

The paper has not published in full its findings from a three-year investigation, but Verdu gave a 385-page dossier to Pope Francis. The number of victims is at least 1,237 but could rise into the thousands, the paper said. The oldest case dates back to 1942 and the most recent to 2018.

In their statement, the bishops also argue that it is “necessary” that the same information delivered to the pope and Omella “is also given to the offices for the protection of minors and prevention of abuse that are in the dioceses and religious congregations to be able to carry out the investigation that would be appropriate according to the information received.”

The Spanish bishops’ conference also says that the report lacks data such as “names of the accused” or “years in which the abuses occurred.”

Although the report doesn’t contain the personal information of the alleged victims, El Pais has claimed that it has made itself available to the Vatican to facilitate contact with those affected so that they can testify if they so wish.

The conference also stated that “all initiatives of institutions and media that help to end the scourge of sexual abuse committed against minors or vulnerable people in the Church or in society” are, “in principle, a good collaboration.”

The prelates close their message insisting on “the importance of denouncing abuses” and encouraging “all victims to present their complaints to the juridical, canonical or social institutions that best suit their wishes.”

Catholic Church cardinals implicated in sex abuse, cover-ups

Catholic Church cardinals implicated in sex abuse, cover-ups
By Nicole Winfield

The conviction of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin for failing to report a known pedophile priest to police deepens the crisis confronting an already discredited Catholic Church hierarchy. The verdict handed down by magistrates Thursday shows the church’s once-untouchable “princes” increasingly are judged accountable for priests who abuse children and the superiors who allowed the abuse to continue.

After centuries of impunity, cardinals from Chile to Australia and points in between are facing justice in both the Vatican and government courts for their own sexual misdeeds or for having shielded abusers under their watch.

Here is a look at cases implicating Catholic cardinals, members of the exclusive club of prelates that advises the pope and eventually elects his successor.

Australia — Cardinal George Pell

In December, the Vatican’s former finance minister was convicted in his native Australia of sexually abusing two boys in the 1990s.

Pell was convicted of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealing with the boy and his 13-year-old friend in 1996 and 1997, months after the 77-year-old cardinal became archbishop of Melbourne.

Pell has denied wrongdoing and planned to appeal. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Each of his five convictions carries a potential 10-year maximum sentence.

After his conviction, the Vatican said its sex crimes office had opened an investigation and confirmed the Sydney archbishop restricted Pell’s ministry after the cardinal returned to Australia to face trial.

United States — ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick 

Francis last month defrocked the onetime leader of the American church after an internal investigation determined McCarrick sexually molested children and adult men; some of the molestation took place during confession. It was the first time a cardinal had been defrocked over the scandal.

One of McCarrick’s victims has filed a police report and spoken to prosecutors in New York City, but it is unclear if any criminal charges can be brought given so much time has passed since the abuse occurred.

The McCarrick scandal has implicated high-ranking churchmen in both the United States and at the Vatican since it was apparently an open secret he slept with adult seminarians.

Chile — Cardinals Javier Errazuriz and Riccardo Ezzati 

The current and former archbishops of Santiago are under investigation by Chilean prosecutors for allegedly covering up for abusive priests.

Errazuriz, who retired as Santiago archbishop in 2010, was recently forced to resign from Francis’s kitchen cabinet after the depth of his cover-up was exposed last year.

His successor, Ezzati, was sued this week by a man who accused him of protecting a priest who allegedly drugged and raped him in the Santiago cathedral. The victim first filed a complaint with Ezzati in 2015. Ezzati issued a church sentence against the priest last year.

Prosecutors have overseen raids of church offices around the country. Ezzati and Errazuriz have so far refused to answer questions in the investigation.

Francis secured offers of resignation from every active Chilean bishop last year as part of Vatican efforts to clean up the Chilean church.

Scotland — Cardinal Keith O’Brien

O’Brien, once the highest-ranking Catholic leader in Britain, recused himself from the 2013 conclave that elected Francis pope after unidentified priests alleged in British newspaper reports that he acted inappropriately toward them.

The priests said they had complained to church authorities about O’Brien’s conduct but never received a response. None of the men were thought to have been minors when the alleged inappropriate behavior took place.

In 2015, Francis accepted O’Brien’s resignation after he relinquished the rights and privileges of being a cardinal. The decision was reached after the Vatican sent its top sex crimes investigator to Scotland to look into the allegations.

O’Brien was allowed to retain the title of cardinal and he died a cardinal in 2018.

Belgium — Cardinal Godfried Danneels

The retired head of Belgium’s Catholic Church has been under fire since 2010, when he was caught on tape suggesting that a victim of a serial predator bishop keep quiet until the man retired.

Two weeks after Danneels met with the victim, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges resigned and expressed sorrow for having long abused his nephew, both as a priest and after becoming a bishop.

Danneels had told the victim it would do him no good going public, and he urged him to forgive his uncle.

Francis has been criticized for having included Danneels, considered a key supporter in his 2013 election, in important church meetings since the scandal.

United States — Cardinal Bernard Law

Law resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston in 2002 following revelations he hid clergy abuse involving dozens of priests who raped and sexually molested children, the scandal chronicled by the Boston Globe that led to the reckoning in the U.S. church.

More than any other prelate, he epitomized the Catholic Church’s failure to protect children from pedophile priests and its arrogance in safeguarding its own reputation at all costs.

St. John Paul II’s decision to promote Law to head St. Mary Major basilica in 2004 reinforced the impression the Vatican still hadn’t grasped the scale of the child abuse problem, the trauma it caused its victims, and the moral credibility the church had lost as a result.

At Law’s Vatican funeral last year, Francis prayed for a merciful final judgment.

Austria — Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer

Groer was allowed to retire on schedule as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 despite multiple allegations he sexually abused young boys at a seminary. He died in 2003 without ever facing civil or canonical justice.

His successor as Vienna archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, in 2010 accused the Vatican secretary of state at the time of the scandal, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, of being behind a cover-up and blocking a Vatican investigation of Groer’s crimes.

The same year, the Vatican gave Schoenborn a rare dressing down for his comments about Sodano, reminding him that only the pope can level accusations against a cardinal.

Vatican — Cardinal Angelo Sodano

As the powerful Vatican secretary of state under John Paul, Sodano has long been held in part responsible for the Vatican’s refusal to take action against pedophile priests.

More than anyone, he has been blamed for blocking a church investigation into the 20th century Catholic Church’s most notorious predator, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ religious order.

Francis recently referred to how then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – the future Pope Benedict XVI – initially failed to secure a sanction against Maciel, a veiled reference to the weight Cardinal Sodano wielded on the decisions of Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“He (Ratzinger) went with all his files. And when he returned he told his secretary, ‘Put them in the archive. The other side won,’” Francis said. “But then, once he became pope, the first thing he said was ‘Bring me the files from the archive,’ and he started.”

Eventually, the Vatican under Benedict sanctioned Maciel to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his crimes.

The Pedophile Priests of St Thomas More parish in Durham NH are Fathers Joseph Desmond, Paul McHugh and Leon Gaulin.
St Thomas More Parish
6 Madbury Road
Durham New Hampshire 03824-0620




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 marcus.bensmann@correctiv.org 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.