That may have been a mistake. My mind is numb. I posted something brief yesterday about the document, but that was before going through the detailed accounts of what more than 300 priests did over the course of several decades. Those accounts are so much worse than the news reports indicated because they couldn’t include all these cases.
Most of the priests are dead now. Some of the stories were heavily redacted because the priests are alive and haven’t been charged with a crime. In some cases, the statute of limitations has long expired. But this was always about documenting the abuses more than anything. When you read this report and realize it’s just one group of priests in one state, you have to wonder what the stories would look like if a similar document was produced across the country, if not the world.
So brace yourself.
Here’s a running list of some of the more egregious things you’ll find in the report. It’s not everything. It’s not even everything for these priests. It’s just the stuff that will make your eyes permanently widen. The hope is that by highlighting these stories, people will realize the horrors covered up by the Catholic Church.
Maybe they’ll think twice before ever attending another Mass or donating any of their money to a Catholic school.
Maybe they’ll think twice before ever attending another Mass or donating any of their money to a Catholic school.
Father Francis “Frank” Fromholzer asked one girl, when she was 13 or 14, to read a story about Jesus that included the phrase, “the cock crows three times.” He made her repeat that phrase several times. When she left class, he “leaned in and nuzzled her neck and asked the victim if she knew what a cock was.”
Father Edward R. Graff was about to anally rape a child, but the victim ran away before it could happen, even though it meant running “into the street, mostly nude.”
Father Chester Gawronski fondled and masturbated at least 12 different children by saying he was just showing them “how to check for cancer.” (When one of these stories went public in 2002, Bishop Donald Trautmanchastised the victim by arguing that he was only 14 when it happened, not 11 like the article said.)
Father William Presley abused three victims, one as young as 13, with “choking, slapping, punching, rape, sodomy, fellatio, anal intercourse,” and more.
Father Thomas D. Skotek raped an underage girl, got her pregnant, then paid for her abortion. His Bishop later said, “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” That letter was addressed to Skotek, not his victim.
Father Edmond Parrakow admitted to molesting “approximately thirty-five male children” because sex with girls was “sinful” and raping boys didn’t violate them. One altar boy said Parrakow told them to go naked under their cassocks during Mass because God didn’t want “man-made clothes” touching their skin during services. Parrakow now works in a shopping mall.
Father Raymond Lukac “married” a victim the moment she turned 18 by forging the head pastor’s signature on a fake marriage certificate. He eventually married her for real, had a child with her (impregnating her when she was 17), then got a divorce. He stayed in the ministry after being taken in by a “benevolent bishop.”
Father Robert Moslener taught middle school kids how to give blowjobs by telling them Mary had to “bite off the cord” and “lick” Jesus clean when he was born.
Father Augustine Giella abused five girls in the same family. Among other things, he collected their urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood in a device attached to his toilet… then he ingested some of it. All of this happened after he worked at a Catholic high school and had been accused of telling a student he wanted to watch her go to the bathroom.
Father Arthur Long tried having sex with a 17-year-old at a high school he worked at by saying God wanted them to express love for each other that way. When she said God would punish them, he told her, “there is no Hell.”
Father George Zirwas was part of a predatory priest “ring” that “shared intelligence” on victims and exchanged them with each other. They “manufactured child pornography” on church property, using “whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims.”
Father Richard Zula asked three altar boys to “pose like statues” and tried to tie them up with rope. Zula also used whips and leather straps on a victim after tying up the person’s hands.
Father Robert N. Caparelli raped several boys as young as 10. He was eventually put in prison, where it was discovered he “had been HIV-positive for years.”
Monsignor Thomas J. Benestad forced a nine-year-old boy to give him a blowjob, then washed his mouth out with holy water “to purify him.”
Reverend David Connell served a high school boy juice. The boy later woke up with no memory of what happened, but there was “bleeding from his rectum.”
Reverend Edward George Ganster once dragged a child across a room by his underwear and beat him with a metal cross. He eventually quit the priesthood… but not before receiving a letter of recommendation for his new job… at Walt Disney World.
Father Richard J. Guiliani began abusing one girl when she was 14, forcing her to masturbate him and blow him. When she turned 18, he visited her and asked for sex and her hand in marriage. (She declined both.)
Reverend Henry Paul is the reason one little girl told her mother she knew how to “French kiss.”
Reverend Gerald Royer once molested a 12-year-old boy. The boy’s friend didn’t believe it… until, hidden in a closet, he witnessed the abuse himself. The victim, now 83, fought in wars, yet because of what Royer did, he could never hug or kiss his own children, who were boys. He can’t shake hands with men to this day. He can’t even see male doctors or dentists.
Reverend Michael G. Barletta was known to take pictures in a boys’ locker room and maintained a book of “crotch shots.”
Father Robert E. Hannon had several male victims, but his diocese dismissed allegations from one girl after Hannon denied it. His argument? He wouldn’t have done it because girls “do not have a penis.”
Father Gerard Krebs, a teacher at a Catholic high school, was asked for advice by a student whose girlfriend was pregnant. Krebs conducted a prostate exam to see if the boy was “capable of impregnating a woman.” Another victim said Krebs guided him through “sexual rituals” to “prove my faith and the fact that I was not a homosexual.”
Monsignor Daniel Martin and other priests in the seminary had a “fierce competition,” one victim said, to molest boys who didn’t have fathers or had bad relationships with them.
Brother Edmundus Murphy encouraged a victim to join their Catholic school’s wrestling team and taught him different moves, naked, because that’s what “the ancient Greeks and Romans did.” During those practices, Murphy sodomized the victim.
Father Gregory Flohr took a victim into the confessional and tied him up with rope. When the victim screamed, Flohr shut him up by shoving his penis in the victim’s mouth. When the victim wouldn’t accept it, Flohr sodomized him with a crucifix and called him a “bad boy.”
Father Charles B. Guth fondled a boy and stuck his finger up the child’s ass. Then he said to the boy that if their secret ever got out, the child and his mother would both burn in hell. Then he gave the boy a nickel.
Father Francis Lesniak told a victim that if he confessed his sins and wasn’t too bad, he’d “get to suck on a strawberry lollipop or popsicle.” After these confessions, which happened multiple times, Lesniak would whip his dick out and say it was a strawberry lollipop.
Father Henry J. Marcinek is the reason one victim said as an adult, “I don’t remember the last time I laughed.” That same victim later confessed that “I peed in [Marcinek’s] mouth, because he used to cum in mine” and that he felt like he was “fricking prostituting himself” at the age of 12 or 13.
Father Roger J. Trott anally raped a 21-year-old man with Down Syndrome, after which the victim was reportedly hospitalized for “surgery for a blockage of the lower bowel.”
Reverend Francis A. Bach had so many victims, then when his diocese confronted him about a particular allegation, he said he didn’t remember it, but responded, “With my history, anything is possible.”
Reverend James Beeman raped a seven-year-old in the hospital just after she had “had her tonsils removed.” He raped her again when she was 19 and pregnant.
Reverend George Koychick inappropriately touched several little girls. When confronted about it by his diocese, he admitted it, adding, “it was when I was going through a touchy/feely time in my life.”
Reverend Guy Marsico admitted to molesting several boys and confessing his sins to another priest. The advice was never to call police or turn himself in. Instead, he was told to “Pray about it and try to get away from it.” Then, when it happened again, he’d receive the same advice.
Reverend Patrick Shannon molested a 16-year-old boy during a camping trip. When the boy resisted, Shannon replied, “Sometime [sic] we say no when we really mean yes.”
Reverend Timothy Sperber sexually abused a girl no older than 10. When she told the principal of their Catholic school that Sperber “touched her in weird ways,” the principal called her a “demon-child” for making those “terrible accusations.”
Reverend Frederick Vaughn abused an 11-year-old girl, wrestling with her on the floor at her family’s home when her father wasn’t around. One time, when she resisted, he said, “I like a fighter.”
Reverend Leo Burchianti once entered a bathroom with an underage boy and put his hands down the boy’s shorts. When the boy told Burchianti to stop tickling him, the response was, “I’m not trying to tickle you, I’m trying to grab for something.”
Reverend Anthony J. Cipolla took a 9-year-old boy to his rectory bedroom, told the child to take off his clothes, then squeezed his penis a total of 70 times before sticking a finger into his rectum. Later, even though his mother wanted to file criminal charges, she dropped them because “she was threatened and harassed by church officials” and told that she should “let the church handle it.”
Reverend David F. Dzermejko fondled a young boy on a Ferris wheel during a church festival. The boy couldn’t get off the ride because Dzermejko told the operator “to keep the ride going three times longer than it should have.”
Reverend Bernard J. Kaczmarczyk went into the shower with a 12-year-old boy under the pretext that he needed to make sure the child was “showering properly.”
Reverend Anujit Kumar kissed an underage girl with his tongue and sucked her lips. When Church officials asked him about it, he was he was just trying to “recruit her for the convent.”
[Redacted] molested a child for years. When the victim turned 15 or 16, he asked the priest to stop and threatened to go public with what had happened. The priest “grabbed him by the throat and threatened to kill him if he told anyone.” He also threatened to tell the victim’s parents he was gay.
Monsignor Raymond T. Schultz masturbated in front of a student at their Catholic school. Afterwards, Schultz would give the kid a handkerchief to wipe the semen off his face. To this day, the victim said, he goes from “sad to angry” whenever he sees a white handkerchief.
Father Robert E. Spangenberg molested an underage boy several times. He also paid the victim a “finder’s fee” if he could find other young “chickens” for Spangenberg to have sex with.
Reverend Paul G. Spisak supposedly took pictures with underage boys in which their swim trunks were down to their ankles. His staff says they saw the pictures… until they disappeared. Spisak may have destroyed the images. A couple of years ago, however, he was arrested for a camera he placed in a mall bathroom. At first he denied it. Then he said he was sick, ran inside a stall, and flushed the memory card down the toilet.
Reverend Anthony P. Conmy molested a 10-year-old girl after dropping her friend off at home. He grabbed her wrists, put his hand over her mouth, put his knee in her stomach to hold her down, then said he wouldn’t kill her if she “would lie quietly.”
Reverend P. Lawrence Homer told a 14-year-old girl she had the body of an 18-year-old woman. He also commented on her “sex hair.”
That’s just a sampling.
The grand jury also noted how the Church managed to cover all these crimes up as long as they did. Leaders, they said, followed a “playbook for concealing the truth” that consisted of seven steps:
Use euphemisms. (“Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”)
Don’t investigate with trained personnel. (Instead, let clergy members ask the victims “inadequate” questions before judging their own colleagues.)
Evaluate priests at church-run “treatment centers.”
Never say why a priest was removed. (Just say he’s on “sick leave” or something.)
Keep providing priests with living expenses regardless of the allegations.
Transfer the priests if his crime becomes public knowledge. (Send him to a place where “no one will know he is a child abuser.”)
Don’t tell the police. (Keep it “in house.”)
Finally, is there any way to fix this?
Yes, said the grand jury, and they offered a few recommendations:
Eliminate the criminal statute of limitations. Pennsylvania law now permits victims to come forward until age 50, but the grand jury said they heard from victims who were, in some cases, in their 70s, but had no legal recourse anymore. They’ve spent their entire lives traumatized by what they went through and an arbitrary cutoff to seek justice is cruel.
Let victims sue the diocese in a timely manner. In many cases, victims “ran out of time to sue before they even knew they had a case.” They need a “window” of time in which to sue once they’re aware of the situation. It shouldn’t be closed off before they even know their options.
Laws must mandate the reporting of abuse, even in Church. There are too many loopholes in the state law that allowed churches to get away with not letting law enforcement know about what predatory priests were doing.
Confidentiality arguments must be tossed aside in criminal cases. The Church had them for decades. In some cases, they gave victims some money to silence them for life.
That second one is receiving criticism from some Catholics. They argue that suing the diocese — and getting money in a victory — would only hurt the parishioners who donated, not the priests who committed the acts or the others who covered it up. Though the flip side of that says… who cares? If the congregation is giving money to an organization complicit in these crimes, a lawsuit would teach them to stop donating to the church.
By the way, as of this writing, the Vatican hasn’t said anything.
Vatican press office said this morning that they have no comment on the grand jury report, and would not even say if Vatican officials have read it.
That says a lot, doesn’t it? Do they think people will just forget about it in a few days? An apology isn’t enough. The Church ought to be tougher on these priests than the law. They need to explain why the abuse was so pervasive and why they cover-up was so rampant. This wasn’t a bad apple. This is a rotten orchard surrounding the entire Vatican.
As you may have heard, a Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report about the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. They only looked at 6 of the 8 dioceses in the state and still produced a report that was more than 1300 pages long and implicated more then 300 priests and bishops and other Catholic leaders.
Many of them are dead. Some of the stories were heavily redacted because the priests are alive and haven’t been charged with a crime. In some cases, the statute of limitations has long expired. But this was always about documenting the abuses more than anything.
When you read this report and realize it’s just one group of priests in one state, you have to wonder what the stories would look like if a similar document was produced across the country, if not the world.
And I want to tell you some of what they found. Not because it’s disturbing — and it’s really disturbing — but because this stuff had been going on for decades. The Church knew about it. They covered it up. They transferred priests to different parishes. They told families they would take care of the problem and never did.
If you are giving money to the Catholic Church, or you attend Mass, or you even call yourself a Catholic at this point, you should know what it is you’re supporting.
Here’s just a sampling. And if this is too much to take, click away now. This is your warning.
One priest fondled at least 12 different boys by saying he was just showing them “how to check for cancer.”
One priest raped an underage girl, got her pregnant, then paid for her abortion. His Bishop later wrote in a letter, “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” That letter was addressed to the priest, not his victim.
One priest admitted to molesting approximately 35 boys because sex with girls was “sinful” but raping boys didn’t violate them.
One priest tried having sex with a 17-year-old at a high school he worked at by saying God wanted them to express love for each other that way. When she said God would punish them, he told her, “there is no Hell.”
One priest forced a nine-year-old boy to give him a blowjob, then washed his mouth out with holy water “to purify him.”
There was a priest who dragged a child across a room by his underwear and beat him with a metal cross. He eventually quit the priesthood… but not before receiving a letter of recommendation from the Church for his new job… at Disney World.
One priest molested a 12-year-old boy. That victim is 83 now, and he said he’s fought in wars, but because of what that priest did to him, he could never hug or kiss his own children, who were boys. He can’t shake hands with men to this day. He can’t even see male doctors or dentists.
One priest was known to take pictures in a boys’ locker room and maintained a book of “crotch shots.”
One priest fondled a boy and stuck his finger up the kid’s ass. Then he said to the boy that if their secret ever got out, the child and his mother would both burn in hell. Then he gave the boy a nickel.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 email@example.com 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.