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Scandalous abuse story of former Vatican official raises questions about Benedict’s resignation

There is a case now before the criminal courts of Germany in which two priests testify to gruesome sexual abuse at the hands of a then-senior official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Monsignor Christoph Kühn.
Tue Sep 15, 2020 - 12:18 pm EST
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September 15, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – At the time of Pope Benedict’s resignation in 2013, newspaper reports from all over the world speculated that the papal abdication was tied to a secret “300-page Vatican dossier that allegedly found an underground network of high-ranking gay clergy, complete with sex parties and shady dealings with the Vatican bank.” We have now learned of reports of homosexual sexual abuse of several priests by high-ranking Vatican monsignor alleged to have taken place inside the Vatican were first reported by one of the victims in 2006, but they went without even an official investigation until now.

The monsignor in question was transferred from the Vatican to a plum post in Vienna, Austria where he is reported to have sexually offended again, and from there was transferred again, this time to a German diocese where he was given another top position with a hefty salary increase. One of the big questions in all this is what Pope Benedict knew of the situation – if anything – and what effect it may have had on his decision to resign the papacy

In 2002, the Catholic Church was rocked by the widespread public revelation of sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy. While sexual abuse in all professions was nothing new, among clergy it brought a particular repugnance. But more than that, the new revelations highlighted the role of the bishops themselves in the crisis, as it made clear that they had allowed known sexually abusive priests to go without punishment and to be transferred to other parishes or dioceses where they would sometimes even abuse again. 

A case which had its first diocesan hearing last Monday, September 7, concerns a high-ranking Vatican monsignor accused of coercing multiple priests under him into masochistic sexual acts. The alleged abuse was first reported to Vatican officials in 2006 with no official investigation taking place until after a German newspaper – Die Bild – began reporting on various aspects of the case last year, resulting in a police investigation and the laying of criminal charges. 

While the 2002 clergy abuse revelations were still very much in the news, there was another homosexual abuse scandal playing out quietly inside the Vatican in the waning years of Pope John Paul II’s lifeLater, while Pope Benedict, along with the rest of the Church, was  expressing  public grief – meeting with abuse victims and promising reforms – those in high Vatican positions were using the same old playbook in mishandling credible allegations of sexual abuse within the Vatican’s own walls. 

In addition to the diocesan investigation in Eichstaatthere is a case now before the criminal courts of Germany in which two of the priests testify to gruesome sexual abuse at the hands of a then-senior official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Monsignor Christoph Kühn. 

Monsignor Florian Kolfhaus and a second man – a former priest – both allege that Kühn violently compelled them into sexual masochistic acts. 

Kolfhaus first lodged a complaint against Kühn at the Vatican in 2006. He testifies that his abuse took place inside the offices of the Secretariat of State, as well as inside the Casa Santa Marta, a residence for Vatican prelates which is now the residence of Pope Francis. 

But it appears no formal investigation was launched until 2019, in spite of the fact that a report by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Delegate for the Pontifical Representations, was presented to the Superiors of the Secretariat of State on July 3, 2006. 

The other priest who testifies in the case has since become laicized and is now a practicing homosexual and LGBT activist. He has given his testimony for the Kolfhaus complaint that is currently underway in Germany. The court files include a WhatsApp message from Kühn to this former priest from April 2017, in which the monsignor offers some future financial support should the laicized priest help him to clear his name with regard to the allegations against him. 

Kühn was the head of the German Section of the Secretariat of State in the Vatican from 2001 till 2008. This position put him in charge of vetting priests and bishops from Germany for elevations, and as such he was privy to all the personnel records of these prelates. Being in such a high position and involved in the German church, Kühn was often in close contact with Pope Benedict XVI both after his 2005 election and prior to that in Benedict’s role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. 

As head of the German Section until 2008, Kühn organized Benedict’s trips to Germany, traveled with him on the papal plane, and was often photographed side by side with him at official receptions such as that with German President Horst Kohler in 2005 during his visit to Cologne, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as well as the future Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Kühn’s reputation was conservative. As Kolfhaus explains in a denunciation to the Vatican as well as to the Diocese of Eichstätt in which he outlines the abuse, “Msgr. Kühn took interest in me personally, given the difficult work that he was about to undertake, namely radically changing the ‘political line’ of the Bishops’ Conference in Germany on the participation of the German bishops in the national system regarding abortion legislation. (The German dioceses – contrary to various directives given by the Holy See – participated in the state-run system, giving on request a certificate to women that was required in order to have a legal abortion. This conflict greatly polarized the Catholic Church in Germany.)” 

Kolfhaus says he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Kühn from the end of 2003 until 2004 and has been reporting the abuse to different superiors in the Vatican and elsewhere since 2006. Through his lawyer, Dr. Alexander Stevens, Kolfhaus told LifeSite that he did not begin the legal process or go to the press with the abuse he suffered. Only after details of the abuse were reported by the German newspaper Die Bild in 2019, and police questioned Kolfhaus, did he act. 

“When journalists or civil authorities come to me I have to answer truthfully, to lie here would be nothing other than covering up for the perpetrator,” Kolfhaus told LifeSite’s Dr. Maike Hickson. 

In 2008, Kühn was moved to Vienna to work in the nunciature (or, the Vatican embassy), and here is where the question of Pope Benedict’s knowledge of the case comes into question. 

Two sources close to Pope Benedict spoke anonymously to LifeSite’s Dr. Maike Hickson about it, suggesting that Kühn was moved to Vienna because his scandalous sexual behavior became too well-known. One said that the Pope moved Kühn knowing of the problems and even asked Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, to take Kühn into his diocese, but Meisner refused.

Another source stated:  “When it became known that he [Kühn] had harassed various young men (among them also Kolfhaus), he was removed by Benedict XVI from the Vatican and sent to Vienna.” This source insisted, defending the Pope, that Benedict did personally intervene in the case and that he punished Kühn two times by sending him into less important positions, first to Vienna (2008) and then to Eichstätt (2012), this time removing him from the diplomatic service. 

Recall that Pope Benedict was elected in 2005 and announced his resignation in early 2013. 

Another source from Benedict’s circle, however, suggests that Benedict did not know of the matter and it was handled either by the then-Secretary of State himself (now-Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) or the then-Substitute (now-Cardinal Fernando Filoni). 

In the midst of this scandal in April 2011,  Kühn was awarded a special designation as “Prelate of Honour of His Holiness,” a papal designation that often comes after a number of years of service in the diplomatic corps of the Vatican. 

At the end of August 2012, Kühn was removed from the diplomatic service of the Vatican and was moved to his home diocese of Eichstätt in Germany where he was personally  appointed Canon of the Cathedral  by Bishop Gregor Hanke.  That position, however, gained Kühn a much larger salary and notable position. 

It took until April of 2019, when accusations against Kühn were brought to the public by the German newspaper Die Bildfor Bishop Hanke of the Diocese of Eichstätt to suspend Kühn from his duties.  

LifeSite reached out to Monsignor Kühn with questions. In response, Kühn’s lawyer threatened a lawsuit should LifeSite report on the case. The response denied all charges and not only forbade reporting on the case but also forbade further research into it. 

Kühnpublicly addressed the accusations for the first time in July 2020 after Italian Vaticanist Marco Tosattipublished a translation of portions of a July 16, 2020, Die Bildarticle  on the case on his blog. Kühn vehemently denied all charges. Moreover, Kühn claims that Kolfhaus’ lawyer Alexander Stevens is “a well known LGBTQ activist and supporter of the relative lifestyle and debauchery.” 

Stevens, the alleged victim’s lawyer, told LifeSite’s Dr. Maike Hickson that Kühn’s accusation against him is false. “The prelate obviously doesn't hesitate to even discredit the victim's lawyer,” he wrote via email. “Here, in my opinion, Kuhn's strategy is once again exposed: to neutralize the enemy by deliberate untruths.” 

When LifeSite published our original report on this case on Sept 5, Monsignor Kuhn’s lawyers threatened a lawsuit if we did not take down our story by 4:00 p.m. that same day. 

In addition to the testimonies of the two priests, there are two explosive pieces of evidence in the case which point to Kuhn’s guilt. One is the testimony of Archbishop Viganò and the other from a former employee of the diocese of Eichstaat. 

On January 22, 2020, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò provided testimony for the Church investigation into the case because from May 1998 till July 2009 he was the Delegate for the Pontifical Representations at the Secretariat of State, a position which was responsible for the personnel of the Roman Curia subordinate to the Substitute of the Secretary of State. 

In Viganò’s testimony — which LifeSite confirmed with the archbishop himself — he states that he is “aware of precise information regarding the harassment and all kinds of abuses committed by Msgr. Christoph Kühn against Msgr. Florian Kolfhaus.” 

Archbishop Viganò also notes that Kolfhaus informed various individuals of the abuse including a superior at the Secretariat of State and also a bishop in charge of preparation of candidates for diplomatic service for the Vatican. 

Archbishop Viganò also reports that now-Cardinal Pietro Parolin was informed as well.  

According to Viganò’s knowledge, no official investigation was undertaken by July 2009 (when he ceased his duty as Delegate for the Pontifical Representations) to examine Kolfhaus’ reports of the abuse he suffered. Viganò told LifeSite that evidence which would have called for official investigation included: the report sent to the Secretariat of State by Archbishop Justo Mullor, President of the Pontifical Academy; a report of the psychologist who returned a negative judgment on Kühn, dated June 14, 2006; and Viganò’s note for the Substitute on July 3, 2006.  

Viganò’s testimony also calls into question the 2001 decision to have Kühn at the Vatican in the first place. He recounts that sexually scandalous behavior by Kühn was known to the Vatican as early as 1997 when Kühn was a priest in the Nunciature in Zimbabwe. Viganò relates: 

Msgr. Christoph Kühn began his service on July 1, 1997, in the Apostolic Nunciature in Zimbabwe. During this, his first assignment, the Nuncio, His Excellency Msgr. Peter Prabhu, had to report some of the behavior of his collaborator [Kühn] that could have indicated his possible homosexual tendency. The Nuncio reported in February 1998 that on returning from a pastoral visit of several days, he was told that Fr. Kühn was very sick and that he [Kühn] wanted to see him [Prabhu] immediately. The Nuncio went to his room and knocked on the door. Kühn told him [Prabhu] to come in and revealed himself lying in his bed wearing only very skimpy panties. The Nuncio told him to get dressed and went away. Afterward, Kühn went from his bedroom to his office dressed in the same way, despite the admonition he had received, and then went down to the common area of the Nunciature in that same undressed state. 

On another occasion during an encounter that lasted two hours in an Italian club, with the lights out as slides were projected, Fr. Kühn took a young blond boy about 9 or 10 years old and made him sit on top of him with his arms around the young boy. 

A second testimony in the court files has just been partly corroborated by the Bishop of Monsignor Kuhn, Bishop Hanke. The testimony is from a man who was employed in a high-ranking position by the diocese of Eichstätt. He sums up what he was told by higher-ups in the diocese concerning Kühn in 2014. He was warned to be “cautious” around Kühn “because of his somewhat difficult past.” When he asked for further information, both the finance director of the diocese and the Vicar General informed him that Kühn was known to have had some “unresolved encounters” during his station in Africa that were related to the “homosexuality of the prelate Kühn.” During his time in Vienna, they added, “it went so wild he was forbidden entrance into a hotel.” 

According to this source, the Vicar General told him that the official reason for Kühn’s dismissal from Vienna was the “story with the hotel” as well as “additional non-consensual sexual contacts during his diplomatic stations.” The testimony also notes that he spoke with Bishop Hanke about the matter and the bishop noted that Kuhn should be thankful to be in the diocese and should be grateful to Bishop Hanke. 

The German newspaper which first broke the story reported September 7 that Bishop Hanke partly confirmed the testimony of the diocesan employee by admitting that the Vicar General did know of serious allegations against Kuhn and cautioned the diocesan employee regarding Kuhn. So here is a bishop acknowledging that the Vicar General cautioned an employee regarding Kuhn for his sexually deviant past and they didn’t see fit to warn the unsuspecting faithful Catholics whom they put in Kuhn’s path? 

Canon law (1395) insists that “a cleric who persists with scandal in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished by a suspension. If he persists in the delict after a warning, other penalties can gradually be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.” Canon law experts have told LifeSite that much of the problem leading to the Church sex abuse scandals has been the ignorance of and refusal to apply canon law.

It reminds me of other abuses in the Church where bishops are flagrantly ignoring canon law and thus harming the faith and the faithful. Canon 915 states that those persevering  in  manifestgrave sin are not to be admitted to holy  communion.” And yet pro-abortion politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are given Holy Communion. Priests who abuse the faith of children by grave distortion such as Fr. James Martin are promoted and celebrated in the Church while those who defend the faith and warn the faithful of the gravity of supporting pro-abortion politicians, such as Fr. James Altman, are silenced and threatened with canonical penalty. 

There is another canon law we the faithful laity need to pay attention to. It is canon 212. It is the Church law which informs the faithful of their right and duty to tell our shepherds and the rest of the faithful about their concerns to defend the faith. 

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

We cannot stand for the dereliction of duty of our bishops, that failure to admonish and correct abuse among clergy. Many bishops have failed to take action to correct and admonish clergy sexual abuse, liturgical abuse and abuse of heretical teaching. These abuses threaten our children’s bodies, minds, and souls and we the faithful cannot and must not remain silent. For our children, for our Church, and for our fidelity to Christ – and indeed for the good of abusing clergy and negligent bishops – we must fight the corruption in the Church with prayer and fasting yes but also with public campaigns and actions to demand shepherds in the mold of Christ rather than wolves in shepherds’ clothing. 

The John-Henry Westen Show is available by video on the show’s YouTube channel and right here on my LifeSite blog.

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