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Cardinal Müller responds to allegations of leniency in cover-up abuse cases

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GERMANY, September 17, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller has responded to the claims of Professor Christian Pfeiffer, the criminologist who formerly headed an examination of clerical sex abuse and cover-up in Germany, that the cardinal was one of the driving forces behind a 2013 attempt at censoring his research.

Cardinal Müller told LifeSiteNews today that it was the German Bishops’ Conference itself “who changed the research assignment for Professor Pfeiffer,” and that Pfeiffer “of course now looks for scapegoats for his own failure and shame that the assignment was withdrawn.”

Pfeiffer maintains in a new interview that up to the 1990s, the Church “consistently” suppressed abuse cases and even paid “hush money” to some victims. He named Cardinals Reinhard Marx and Gerhard Müller as the two driving forces behind the 2013 attempt at censoring his research.

Pfeiffer withdrew himself from leading the investigation into the German bishops’ handling of clerical sex abuse cases “because the Church wanted to reserve its right to control the resulting research papers — and under certain circumstances even ban their publication,” according to the New York Times.

The findings of that study, the “MFG Study,” were eventually leaked last week. The study found 3,677 victims of clerical sex abuse of minors in Germany from 1946 until 2014. It also was able to show many forms of manipulation and cover-up on the part of the German bishops.

In the new issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel, Pfeiffer – the former head of the Criminology Research Center in Hannover, Germany – discusses the recently published results of study, which was initiated and ordered by the German Bishops’ Conference itself.

In 2012, Pfeiffer himself had made a contract with the German bishops in order to conduct a sex abuse study. This collaboration was terminated a year later.

“The Church asked something from me and my team that the current researchers did not have to accept,” Pfeiffer explained to Der Spiegel. “She insisted upon the right to stop the publication of my critical research findings in a case of doubt. That is why I could not continue the cooperation.”

According to Pfeiffer, it was both Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s vicar general in Munich and then-Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg who were the leading figures that tried “to change the contracts, going even so far as to censor us really.”

“Munich and Regensburg brought down our project,” Pfeiffer said. For him, it was “very dubious” when Müller was later called by the Pope to Rome “to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF),” and “to fight abuse on the international level.” For Pfeiffer, this papal decision did not, therefore, have a good “prospect for success.” Pope Francis, according to Pfeiffer, then later dismissed Cardinal Müller from his position at the CDF: “In the meantime, the Pope however drew already the conclusions and dismissed Müller from that position.” With these words, the criminologist implies that the German cardinal was dismissed for his defective way of dealing with sex abuse cases.

However, as LifeSiteNews was recently able find out from well-placed Vatican sources, Cardinal Müller very well might have been dismissed by Pope Francis for his strict adherence to the Church's sex abuse procedures, for example in the case of the serial child abuser Don Mauro Inzoli.

It was the German Bishops’ Conference itself “who changed the research assignment for Professor Pfeiffer,” Müller told LifeSiteNews. He said that Pfeiffer “of course now looks for scapegoats for his own failure and shame that the assignment was withdrawn.”

The cardinal also states that Pfeiffer’s claim about Müller’s own involvement in the thwarting of the Pfeiffer study is a “free invention.” The German cardinal additionally calls Pfeiffer’s statement that Müller was later dismissed by Pope Francis for his defective way of handling abuse cases “absurd.”

Moreover, the German cardinal makes it clear that he himself had been accused by some “papal confidants” of being too strict in his handling of sex abuse cases – 20 percent of which ended with the laicization of the offender. He praises and defends the three CDF priests whom Pope Francis dismissed in 2016, calling them “exemplary” and “competent.”

Finally, Cardinal Müller also refutes Professor Pfeiffer’s claim that celibacy is at the root of the sex abuse crisis and that that priestly discipline should be abolished.

“The sexual abuse of mainly homophilic offenders is not rooted in the Church’s sexual morality or in the celibacy of the priests, but, rather, in the laxity of morals and in the violation of God's Commandments and the failure to live celibacy,” Müller said. (See the full translation of Cardinal Müller's response to Pfeiffer’s remarks at the bottom of the article.)

Let us now return to Pfeiffer’s other comments on the German sex abuse report.

When asked in the Spiegel interview as to what he himself thinks about how high the real numbers of abuse cases might be, Professor Pfeiffer responded with the words “very high.”

“Some of the reported cases go very far back, and up into the 1990s there was no escape for the victims,” he explains. “The Church at the time consistently suppressed reports about sexual abuse and nearly never contacted the district attorney’s office. […] Money – with the help of which silence was bought – also flowed.” For Pfeiffer, even the now-published numbers of abuse victims are “shocking.” He expresses gratitude that today there exists a “sensibility” in society with regard to this topic, and that victims are more encouraged to speak up.

Pfeiffer shows that the findings of the study – namely, that around 4.4 percent of clergymen were involved in the sexual abuse of minors – are in accordance with other international studies, and he also points out that “only a minority of the abusers had a pedophile orientation.”

With regard to the defects of the new research study, as it has now been finished by another research team, Pfeiffer points out that its “gravest weak point” is “the lack of access to [Church] files.”

“When I started the project in 2012, we had an agreement that retired judges and attorneys would go [to the dioceses] and record the data on our behalf. It is a grave mistake that the Church changed that,” he explains.

A well-informed source in Germany told LifeSiteNews that there is a German law that forbids public institutions from letting outsiders have access to personnel files of their employees, unless there is a criminal charge, which was not the case in the abuse research project.

In spite of his criticism of some aspects of the new study, Professor Pfeiffer himself is nonetheless glad about it since it has been able to show “the huge amount of cover-up and downplaying within the Church, as it has not been known about heretofore.” He proposes that further research now be undertaken which would also include a far range of interviews with many abuse victims. For him, the Church has “in part” done her work in this field but “much still needs to be done.”

For Pfeiffer, who is not a Catholic, one proposed part of the solution of this abuse crisis would be to abandon priestly celibacy.

“The more one can live out freely one’s sexuality,” he suggests, “the better” with regard to abuse cases. He showed himself “surprised” that the new abuse study itself did not specifically point to priestly celibacy as a problem. As we have seen above, Cardinal Müller made some remarks about this comment.

With regard to future steps, the criminologist says that each individual case of abuse should “certainly be investigated.”

“After all,” he adds, the Church has negligently exposed people to dangers because she often only simply moved guilty clergymen into other dioceses – without warning the new parishes. There were many offenders “who then committed new sexual crimes. That is why the Church hierarchy who is responsible for these transfers carries a great part of the guilt of these crimes.”

At the end of the interview, Professor Pfeiffer calls for truly clear conduct on the part of the Church: “The Church has to make clear in a stringent way: he who is a criminal may not work as a priest.”

Cardinal Müller’s full statement to LifeSiteNews:

It was the German Bishops’ Conference which changed the research assignment for Professor Pfeiffer, independently of legitimate questions concerning the scientific method and the juridical foundations of the Pfeiffer study. Mr. Pfeiffer of course now looks for scapegoats for his own failure and for the shame that the research assignment had been withdrawn from him. If he also insinuates a connection between his freely invented claim that the then-Bishop of Regensburg and others had made his project perish, and between the [later] non-renewal of Cardinal Müller’s mandate as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then the absurdity of his claim is transparent for every clear-thinking person. With respect to the satisfaction that Pfeiffer feels and shamelessly announces, it is a question of character. The fact is that in the time of Bishop Müller [in Regensburg], all abuse cases that had taken place prior to his own term of office were dealt with all strictness, as soon as they were reported; and that the one abuse case of an abuser who had been an inherited burden from earlier times was concluded with his laicization.

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith acted within the framework of the collegial commission according to the rules of the Church's law and of the Sacramentorum sactitatis tutela [a motu proprio with regard to the Church’s penal law]. A certain group of people accused the Congregation of too much severity and a lack of mercy with regard to the canonical trials and with regard to the punishments that were imposed (only 20% ended with a laicization, the rest received other punishments (but that was already too much for some of the papal confidants [“Papsteinflüsterer”]!). Three competent employees and exemplary priests were dismissed [from the CDF] without notice and without reason. One could not accuse them of too much laxity, on the contrary! The sexual abuse of mainly homophilic offenders is not rooted in the Church's sexual morality nor in the celibacy of the priests, but, rather, in the laxity of morals and in the violation of God's Commandments and the failure to live celibacy. The reason for adultery, also, is not the indissolubility of marriage, as it has been established by God.

Translated by Maike Hickson

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.