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(LifeSiteNews) – A recently concluded official investigation of allegations of sex abuse and sex abuse cover-up in the Austrian abbey Klosterneuburg has raised questions as to whether the Vatican was interested in covering up that monastic misconduct. In 2020, the Vatican appointed Bishop Josef Clemens, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s former secretary, as papal delegate to this abbey.
Clemens was Pope Benedict XVI’s former secretary and as secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, was responsible for the organization of the World Youth Days in Cologne (2005), Sydney (2008), Madrid (2011) and Rio de Janeiro (2013), as well as Cracow (2016). He committed, in November of last year, the blunder of quoting one of the deceased canons who is accused of having sexually abused underage boys.
In November 2020, Clemens had been appointed Papal Delegate by the Vatican; he was to head the abbey after the publication of serious allegations of sexual abuse by members of the community and of cover-up of that abuse on the part of the leadership of Klosterneuburg, particularly of Provost Bernhard Backovsky. In May 2020, Backovsky had retired due to health problems. He had been the provost of the abbey for 25 years and thus carries much responsibility for what happened in that period of time.
This decision on the part of the Vatican came after it had conducted an Apostolic Visitation of the abbey in the summer of 2020 which investigated the allegations of abuse, among other things. Klosterneuburg is an Augustinian abbey founded in 1114 and is said to be one of the wealthiest monasteries of Europe. There are currently 41 Augustinian canons there.
Reports of sexual abuse at the abbey started to appear in 2017. The first accusation related to Canon W. Veix, who had sexually abused, in 1993, an under-aged boy and was subsequently asked to leave the abbey. However, as one detailed report showed, he went on to be ordained a priest in 1996 and continued to abuse boys for many years (the reason of his being later, in 2020, laicized). While Klosterneuburg first claimed to not have had anything to do with this case after Veix’s dismissal from the monastery, witnesses have said that it was Provost Backovsky who had helped Veix to become an ordained priest and to find a position as priest. Veix also continued to live for some years in an apartment owned by the monastery.
As one eyewitness (whose name is known to LifeSite but will not be published here) told LifeSite, Veix once confided that he had “Backovsky and his brother in my pocket,” adding that Backovsky “is my life insurance.”
Dr. Floridus Röhrig
The second report on abuse allegations referred to Dr. Floridus Röhrig, a canon who died in 2014, but who was one of the most prominent members of the abbey. He was a learned church historian and a professor at the University of Vienna, Austria. As such, he received numerous honors.
However, as a man and priest, he seems to have lived a very different life. LifeSite was able to speak with one of his victims, Peter R. [a pseudonym; the victim wishes to remain anonymous], who says that he had been repeatedly sexually abused by this canon in the most grievous way when he was merely 13 years old. Peter R. is an acknowledged victim, having received some small financial restitution. Both Peter R. and his older brother stated already in public that they were sexually abused by Dr. Floridus.
The German Father Michael Imlau, who was once a member of Klosterneuburg Abbey, said in 2019 that Röhrig had the reputation at the abbey of being “the greatest child molester in lower Austria.” He himself, as he told LifeSite, witnessed a drunken Dr. Röhrig – who often was drunk in the evenings – speaking about his strange adventures in London’s restrooms. Imlau also reported that another canon once yelled at Röhrig, in front of other canons, telling him to stay away from a certain young canon whom Röhrig wanted to take to a vacation at a nudist beach. That young man did not know what this visit would entail.
According to Imlau, the older canon who wished to protect the younger canon yelled at Röhrig in front of other canons, with the words, “You filthy pig, keep your disgusting fingers off him [the young canon]!” Fr. Imlau added that none of the canons who witnessed this outburst came to the defense of Röhrig, and instead remained silent, because they must have known about his immoral behavior.
Röhrig was responsible for the boy scouts of the region, and he regularly took these boys on cultural trips. Both Peter R. and his brother said that Röhrig took them during such trips to nudist beaches, where he took photos of the naked boys. According to Fr, Imlau, on one occasion, the drunken Röhrig showed two of his fellow monks in his apartment some of these photos which he collected in an album. This incident has been confirmed to LifeSite by another well-informed source.
‘Clemens has thus definitively disqualified himself and clearly sided with the perpetrators’
As in the case with Veix (the now-laicized priest), so, too, in this case, Provost Backovsky is under suspicion of having known and of having done nothing to prevent further abuse or to do justice, as it now seems. But unfortunately, after the initial apostolic visitation, Bishop Clemens’ own investigations merely produced a statement, in March 2022, in which he declared that “the investigation as recommended by the Holy See has been concluded,” and that now it is important “to look into the future and to make a new start.” Provost Backovsky was quoted as apologizing for his failures. The statement did not give any particular findings with regard to cases of sexual abuse that had taken place in the Abbey or what Provost Backovsky specifically did wrong.
The statement explained that the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life had recommended such an investigation in light of the question of how Backovsky had dealt with matters of sexual abuse. Clemens had therefore initiated a canonical investigation from an outside expert, which took place in November 2021.
The March 2022 statement continued as follows:
The final report contains the finding of failures to prevent the occurrence – or subsequent processing – of cases of abuse as well as sexual misconduct by members and former members of the monastery on the part of the management of the monastery at the time. Therefore, Provost em. Bernhard Backovsky was issued a canonical monitio (admonition).
Backovsky did not experience any serious consequences for his objective failure in the field of sexual abuse; he was merely to stay away from the monastery “for an appropriate period of time,” for the sake of healing. However, he has now already returned to the abbey, as LifeSite was told by one source. (LifeSite received confirmation for this by the press officer of Klosterneuburg who explained that the Vatican allowed his return for “health reasons.”) Rumor has it that Backovsky’s own assistant of many years, Anton Hösling, might very well soon be elected as the next Provost of the abbey.
Bishop Clemens, in this official March 2022 statement, concluded that “the canonical investigation is now closed and the past has been dealt with. After these tumultuous times, one may now look into the future facing new challenges.”
Is this case really closed?
LifeSite learned that Bishop Clemens himself caused a great scandal last November, when giving a homily at Klosterneuburg Abbey for the feast of St. Leopold, the founder of this abbey. Several times, he quoted – of all people – Dr. Röhrig’s academic work, thus still giving this alleged abuser priest prominence.
Not only did he have footnotes with references to Röhrig’s work, he even quoted some words of Röhrig about St. Leopold in the second phrase of his homily.
LifeSite reached out to Peter R., one of Röhrig’s victims, about this.
He responded: “I am shocked and it pains me to see that Bishop Clemens, in his speech at the monastery, had to quote Dr. Floridus, of all people, who caused me and my brother a great deal of suffering.”
He added: “Peace to the perpetrators who brought great suffering to the victims! Truth is the redemption of one’s own soul in order to enter the Kingdom of God!”
Johannes Heibel, an investigator of sexual abuse in Germany and elsewhere, who has played a major role in uncovering the abuse history of Klosterneuburg, now even calls for Clemens’ resignation. He told LifeSite:
I find it particularly towards the victims of Röhrig, whom I have supported or in part still support, base and extraordinarily hurtful to refer to the child molester of the monastery No.1 and to quote him at the most important ceremony of the year for the monastery [the Feast of St. Leopold, the founder of the Abbey]. In my opinion, Clemens has thus definitively disqualified himself and clearly sided with the perpetrators. He would have to resign from his office immediately.
Bishop Clemens: Quoting Röhrig in homily wasn’t an endorsement
A true healing has not yet taken place, according to several sources.
LifeSiteNews was able to find out more about Bishop Clemens’ attitude and way of handling questions regarding his own conduct.
First of all, LifeSite contacted him, asking him to comment on his decision to quote Dr. Röhrig by name.
In his response, Bishop Clemens claimed that quoting Röhrig was not an endorsement of his person: “The citation of the author of a source complies with the applicable academic standards and says nothing about his person.” Then Clemens continued by pointing out that it is incorrect to claim he “positively quoted” Röhrig: “It does not correspond to the truth that in the sermon of the [Papal] Delegate the author was ‘was positively quoted several times’. Citations or references are not personal evaluations, but academically helpful references or necessary proofs of the sources used.”
However, Clemens’ mentioning of Röhrig in the second phrase of his homily merely served to present a translation by Röhrig of a Latin phrase, and therefore surely could have been avoided, if one had a sensitivity toward the victims of Röhrig.
LifeSite also asked Bishop Clemens whether his canonical investigation looked into the case of this canon and if it found that Röhrig was innocent – a possible explanation for his mentioning his name in his homily.
But this answer remained essentially unanswered, since Clemens merely informed LifeSite which regulations the investigation was following and that he, as papal delegate, is “following, in his [speaking in the third person] assessment of the individual cases, the insights and assessments of the responsible bodies of the Archdiocese of Vienna.”
That is to say, he did not answer our question. Transparency was not intended, as it seems.
This impression was further strengthened when on May 15, LifeSite spoke with Fr. Michael Imlau, an eye witness to multiple corruptions surrounding the Abbey. He and another priest had met this month with Clemens. One of their objections was that Clemens had not even interviewed them – two important witnesses – before declaring the canonical investigation to be closed (in March of this year).
When Fr. Imlau brought up the Röhrig case and his sexual misconduct, Bishop Clemens told Imlau that, if one had remained silent about the case at the time, it was done to “avoid damages for the Church.” Imlau told LifeSite that Bishop Clemens also said that the content of their own conversation should “not be shared with the press.”
Therefore, Fr. Imlau and his fellow priest both had the impression that there still exists the spirit of cover-up. He and other observers of this Klosterneuburg case are of the opinion that the case should not yet be closed.
Abp. Viganò: Nuncio in Germany sent information ‘that there were strong suspicions that Clemens was a practicing homosexual’
Johannes Heibel commented on Bishop Clemens’ answers to LifeSite as follows: “Well, basically, these are not answers to your questions at all. In arrogant, extremely arrogant, lecturing, typical clerical manner, he merely refers to rules and regulations and thus shows that he has learned nothing.”
By ignoring “what the perpetrators and their accomplices have done to the victims,” he continued, Bishop Clemens “shows himself as a man involved in cover-up.” For Heibel, it is clear that Clemens “is not interested in any real investigation or clarification of the events at the monastery,” trying to avoid further damage to the “already battered reputation of the monastery.”
“By not informing the public comprehensively, he seamlessly joins the ranks of the cover-ups,” Heibel concluded.
LifeSite also reached out to an expert in child protection, presenting him with our findings. He commented: “Every sincere measure and every honest effort to investigate, address, and prevent abuse must be guided by the principle that concern for those affected by abuse is the priority.”
In light of the damage that Bishop Clemens is adding to the situation in Klosterneuburg, it might be worthwhile questioning the Vatican’s decision to make him the Papal Delegate in Klosterneuburg.
Clemens has a controversial personal history himself. After having been the personal secretary of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for nearly twenty years (1984-2003), he was elevated to the episcopacy. However, as Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò revealed to LifeSite, the Vatican’s usual investigation before the consecration of a priest brought forth serious allegations of his being an active homosexual.
As LifeSite learned from Archbishop Viganò, it was the nuncio of Germany, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, who told him in his official capacity that an investigation into Clemens’ personal life has shown that there were strong suspicions that he was a practicing homosexual. Viganò also told LifeSite that Ratzinger at the time was warned about Clemens’ homosexuality and that he nevertheless consecrated him a bishop.
By virtue of his work in the curia, Viganò was tasked with investigating Clemens when he was considered for the episcopate, as Viganò told LifeSite.
“The nuncio in Germany,” he continued, “was Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo. The information he sent from Germany was that there were strong suspicions that Clemens was a practicing homosexual. Thus his advice was negative on making him a bishop.”
At the time, Viganò worked as the delegate for Pontifical Representations. He told LifeSite: “My advice, as responsible for personnel in the curia, was also that Clemens should not be promoted (to bishop).” However, the Italian archbishop continued, “it was later reported to me that Ratzinger wanted Clemens to be promoted in spite of the information that was reported from Germany to me.”
LifeSite learned from another reliable source that Ratzinger himself had turned to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, asking him whether he could take Clemens into his diocese.
“I can confirm,” wrote LifeSite’s source who spoke on condition of anonymity, “that Cardinal Meisner told us that he refused the request of Ratzinger to welcome Clemens in Cologne and that he did so with the words: ‘no, because of homo [sexuality].’ He [Meisner] also wanted to offer Clemens a therapy which he declined.”
Another source in Rome told LifeSite: “The fact that Josef Clemens was and is an active homosexual is well known among us here in Rome.” Yet an additional contact in Rome was able to confirm with his own sources that Clemens is an active homosexual.
A Vatican expert who wished to remain anonymous spoke with LifeSite about Bishop Clemens and his mission to investigate sexual abuse cases in Klosterneuburg. He spontaneously asked whether making Clemens the Papal Delegate of this abbey is not similar “to asking the fox to guard the hen house.” After all, he added, Clemens is “well known for his tendencies among German-speaking colleagues in Rome who at times make jokes about his earlier profession as a hairdresser.”
Archbishop Viganò told LifeSite that “it was reported to me that there was quite a fight between Ganswein and Clemens,” when Ratzinger chose Georg Gänswein as his new secretary, in 2003.
LifeSite reached out to Bishop Clemens, asking him to comment on the facts as laid out in this report, both directly relating to his own personal life as well as relating to the position of Church officials.
Clemens said the claim that he is a practicing homosexual “is an untruth” and later added, when questioned about the immorality of homosexual acts of a priest, “this is known to a moral theologian who wrote his doctoral thesis in moral theology.”
When asked about Cardinal Lajolo and Archbishop Viganò and their statements, Clemens explained that he has no knowledge of it. Furthermore, he told LifeSite that he would not answer any further questions: “By giving you these clear and unambiguous answers, I consider this matter to be closed.”
Media requests concerning Bishop Clemens to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, the Vatican Press Office, as well as Cardinal Lajolo have remained unanswered. The Archdiocese of Vienna, Austria did not respond to our media requests, either; since Bishop Clemens claimed to have followed Vienna’s assessment of the different abuse cases, LifeSite sought information from them, but was denied that information. Provost Bernhard Backovsky has also not responded to LifeSite’s media inquiry. As it seems, the culture of cover-up and of silence is still alive in the Church.
Is this the way the Vatican, after Pope Francis’s assurances that sexual abuse and cover-up of sexual abuse will now be handled differently, is dealing with the suffering of victims of sexual abuse in Klosterneuburg?
John-Henry Westen contributed to this report.
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