Maike Hickson

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Leaked German abuse report shows manipulation from both bishops and scientists

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

GERMANY, September 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – LifeSiteNews has obtained the 8-page summary of the German “MHG Study” on clerical sex abuse of minors that was leaked on September 12. The summary makes it clear that the German bishops have been gravely negligent with regard to the handling of the abuse cases. At the same time, the German abuse report itself appears to have its own flaws in that it tries to deflect the problem away from the aspect of priestly homosexuality.

None other than Professor Christian Pfeiffer – the criminologist who first had this entire research project under his care, but then was excluded due to his refusal to allow his research to be censored by the German bishops before release – went public on September 12 with some critical remarks about the leaked abuse report. Speaking to the New York Times, Pfeiffer insists that the extent of the abuse problem might still be underestimated.

“The report does not give the full picture, and is not fully independent,” he said. Pfeiffer pointed out that the researchers had no direct access to Church files and had to rely on Church personnel to fill in questionnaires for them. The report also found evidence that files regarding the abuse of minors had too often been manipulated or destroyed, as Pfeiffer points out. According to the New York Times, Pfeiffer ended up refusing to participate in this project “because the Church wanted to reserve its right to control the resulting research papers — and under certain circumstances even ban their publication.”

This statement by Professor Pfeiffer makes it clear that the German bishops – under the leadership of both the President of the German bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and of Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the bishop responsible for handling sex abuse cases – improperly tried to control the outcome of the research project that they funded with up to 1.1 million euros.

The strictly confidential summary of the abuse report that LifeSiteNews was able to obtain shows that there were grave omissions to be found on the part of the German bishops. For example, the researchers say that, had it not been for a separate ecclesial legal procedure of offering recompense to abuse victims (as established only in 2011) and its own files, 50 percent of the abuse cases would not have been detected and known to the researchers, because the complaints of abuse were never actually entered into the personnel files of the abusing priests.

If one had “only investigated the personnel files” of abusing priests, the researchers explain, “half of all cases would not have been discovered.” For the researchers, this fact alone can give insights “about the number of unreported cases.”

In addition to this grave omission, the researchers also point out that the bishops, from 1946 to 2014, often moved abusing priests to other parishes or to other dioceses, instead of sternly punishing them. Such transfers, which happened significantly more often with the abusing priests than with innocent priests, in most occasions also happened without “giving any pertinent information to the receiving parish or diocese about the accusations or about the possible risks with regard to possible repetitions of the crimes.”

The researchers also found “hints that personnel files and other documents pertaining to this research have been destroyed or manipulated at an earlier time.” Also important is the fact that “all information about identified cases of sexual abuse was [first] rendered anonymous” and only then passed on by Church personnel to the researchers.

“Thus,” the researchers explain at the beginning of their summary, the information was “influenced by the perspective of that person who dealt with the data.”

Furthermore, “all the cases and involved persons (accused persons and victims) remained anonymous to the research team.” Thus, this lack of direct access to the abuse case files themselves might also be a cause for the inaccuracy of this research.

Researchers acknowledge majority of abuse victims were male but argue for ordaining homosexuals 

The weight of guilt that lies on the German bishops further increases when considering the summary’s statement that “in only 33.9 [percent] of the cases, there was evidence that a canonical trial because of sexual abuse of minors had been opened.” In 53 percent of the cases, nothing ever happened. One fourth of the canonical trials ended without any sanctions, while “drastic or irreversible sanctions, such as laicization or excommunication, were taken only in small numbers of cases.” The “majority of the sanctions seemed light, in part with possibly problematic consequences” with regard to a relapse and repetition of the crimes.

In light of the described grave defects of the German bishops’ handling of sexual abuse of minors, Professor Pfeiffer candidly comments to the New York Times: “The degree of the cover-up is stunning and beyond anything I had expected.”

Additionally, it also seems that the German bishops tried to steer the research project in a certain progressive direction when they invited the research team to “identify ecclesial structures and dynamics which could promote the events of abuse.” When dealing with this issue, the summary report clearly shows its own attempt at steering the discussion. While the researchers admit that the “clear majority” of the abuse victims were male – nearly two thirds (62.8 percent) male against one third (34.9 percent) female victims – they nevertheless refuse to acknowledge explicitly that homosexuality itself is a factor in this abuse crisis.

“Homosexuality is not a risk factor for sexual abuse,” the summary states. “However,” the authors continue, “the results of the research make it necessary to deal with those questions as to what influence Catholic sexual morality concerning homosexuality itself has in the context of sexual abuse of minors.”

That is to say, instead of acknowledging the facts, the research team denies them and uses them as an argument in order to question the Church’s own moral teaching on homosexuality. The summary goes further and even proposes that the Church admit homosexual men to the priesthood: “The fundamentally opposing attitude of the Catholic Church with regard to the ordination of homosexual men is urgently to be reconsidered.”

This skewed interpretation of the facts on homosexuality has already been picked up by some of the progressivist bishops in Germany. For example, in a letter to the parishes of his diocese, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen now refers to this part of the recommendations of the research study and says that one must “take very seriously” these results. He speaks about “alarming hints that some of the ideas and aspects of our Catholic sexual morality” have “promoted sexual abuse.” While he also points to aspects of clericalism (power, hierarchy), Overbeck does not, however, mention the problem of homosexuality in this crisis, as is also the case in the summary of the MHG study.

In light of these twofold manipulations – first, the one perpetrated by the German bishops themselves and second, the one perpetrated by the tendentious research team – one may fittingly ask whether the German bishops, by choosing this specific research team and by asking them to advise the Catholic Church in moral matters, did not even promote themselves a double manipulation.

Marx and Ackermann have history of handling abuse cases poorly

It is also to be hoped this time that the German bishops will again fail with this newly attempted manipulation. For, when they tried in 2013 to silence Professor Pfeiffer with the help of a restraining order, and to forbid him from saying in public that they had tried to silence or to control his own research, they failed. They had to withdraw their lawsuit against Pfeiffer due to lack of evidence. As Pfeiffer revealed at the time, the German bishops – under Cardinal Marx and Bishop Ackermann’s influence – tried to make him accept the strict condition that he could only publish his research results with their approval. When he resisted such attempts at censorship, they entirely canceled his research project and looked for another research team. One may ask whether this conduct is worthy of the head of the German Bishops’ Conference (Marx) and also of the very bishop who is the German bishops’ spokesman for abuse case matters (Ackermann).

Both prelates have themselves already been accused of cover-up and negligence of abuse cases. Cardinal Marx was accused in 2017 of not having taken the necessary steps against Othmar M, a priest who sexually abused minors when Marx himself was the Bishop of Trier. As the German newspaper Die Zeit then wrote, “it is clear that Cardinal Reinhard Marx [...] knew at the time [in 2006] of the charges but did not start an investigation of the case.” The newspaper also quotes Cardinal Marx as saying, “For me personally, I would like to state explicitly that I today – and unfortunately only in retrospect – recognize that I should have inquired more intensively.”

Bishop Ackermann’s own failures with respect to the sexual abuse of minors seem to be even worse. He was in the media in 2012 because two priests in his own Diocese of Trier accused him of not responding to their calls for an investigation of three suspected clerical abusers. As Guido Ittmann, one of the two courageous priests, commented to the German journal Der Spiegel, “it cannot be that the [German bishops’] spokesman on child abuse issues is himself covering up abuse cases.” His fellow priest who had tried to help the abused children was then ordered by the Diocese of Trier to be henceforth silent on this matter. In 2013, however, Ackermann issued a public apology to Father Ittmann.

In another 2012 article, Der Spiegel comments on Ackermann: “However, it would seem that this zero-tolerance policy doesn't apply in his [Ackermann’s] own diocese.” Explaining these words, the journal says that “in January, Ackermann had to issue a public apology after failing to suspend immediately a suspected pedophile priest in 2011. Now SPIEGEL has obtained information about seven other cases of priests in the bishop’s diocese who are suspected of having abused minors.”

In light of the personal history of these two German prelates and leading public figures, are we to be astonished that this new German abuse report appears to be surrounded with suspicions of cover-ups and manipulations?

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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.