Former head of German sex abuse study claims bishop threatened and tried to silence him
May 31, 2019 update: An update below includes testimony from Dirk Rossmann about the expressed threats against Professor Christian Pfeiffer during his December 12, 2012 meeting with Bishop Stephan Ackermann.
May 9, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Professor Christian Pfeiffer, a German criminologist, reveals in a Zeit interview for the first time the treatment he received from Bishop Stephan Ackermann (Trier) when they had a falling out over how to conduct the clerical sex abuse study started in 2011.
On December 12, 2012, Bishop Ackermann, in the presence of Cardinal Reinhard Marx's secretary Fr. Peter Langendoerfer, offered Pfeiffer 120,000 euros to accept a contract that would silence him and then threatened to destroy his name should he not leave the project quietly. LifeSiteNews was able to obtain a confirmation of Pfeiffer’s claims from a person who was present at that crucial meeting.
Speaking with the German newspaper Die Zeit, Professor Pfeiffer describes how the project soon after its start in 2011 became difficult, because the German bishops became nervous about its possible disclosures and possible outcome.
He admits he might have upset the dioceses by making a strong claim, already in 2011, at a conference with their general vicars, that celibacy is the root problem of the clerical sex abuse crisis. “I was perhaps a little bit imprudent here,” Pfeiffer comments.
There were soon other problems relating to matters of privacy and the German bishops’ wish to have a last veto on what may be published in the end, a wish Professor Pfeiffer considered “a wish for censorship” of academic research.
He also laments that the German dioceses did not allow a form of research that would have made it possible to point to the specific responsibility of each individual diocese in light of the possible cover-up of abuser priests. Professor Pfeiffer says Cardinal Reinhard Marx was the driving force among the German bishops to gain greater control over this academic research project that was to investigate all abuse cases in German dioceses from 1945 on. Pfeiffer would have liked to point out the individual responsibility of each diocese with regard to the cover-up of sexual abuse.
This point has also been raised by the research team that was able to finish the research project in 2018. That MSG study, as published last year, stated that “in some cases, there were to be found clear indications that files had been manipulated.” The researchers also found “explicit information” from two dioceses “that files or parts of files pertaining to sexual abuse of minors had been destroyed at an earlier time.”
The research team added that “the study project did not have access to the original files of the Catholic Church. All archives and files of the dioceses had been investigated only by diocesan personnel or by law firms hired by the dioceses.” That is to say, these diocesan employees first went through the files and filled out a questionnaire developed by the research team. As the Zeit journalist Evelyn Finger pointed out at the time, “none of the scientists ever had in their hands files from the Church’s archives. That is why this study is not really independent. The institution that had to be investigated controlled the investigation.” She also pointed out that this method was different from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, as well as the Royal Commission’s report in Australia.
Professor Pfeiffer had, in order to avoid this problem, proposed to hire a set of retired judges and lawyers who would, upon order by the dioceses, confidentially do that investigative research themselves.
As Pfeiffer points out, Cardinal Reinhard Marx was among the leading bishops who wanted first to make changes to the research contract that would have given the last word to the bishops as to what was to be published. (Here, Pfeiffer refers to a specific May 7, 2012 letter from Marx’s Diocese of Munich that stipulated new conditions for the research project.)
Since Cardinal Marx himself is in favor of a discussion of celibacy in light of the abuse crisis, he must have had another reason for his intervening than possible objections to Professor Pfeiffer’s personal views.
At the end of these disagreements — and since Professor Pfeiffer was not willing to accept a new contract giving the German bishops a last word on what would be published — there took place a final meeting, on December 12, 2012 (Pfeiffer corrected the date, which he had previously remembered as December 20). Pfeiffer now states that at that final meeting with Father Langendörfer (the secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference and Cardinal Marx’s right-hand man) and Bishop Ackermann (tasked with handling sex abuse matters within the German Bishops’ Conference), he himself was threatened.
In the Zeit interview, Pfeiffer says about the meeting on December 12, which was attended also by Professor Thomas Mössle, who was then his colleague and the vice president of his Institute for Criminological Research:
He [Ackermann] told me that, if I refuse to sign the contract and if the accusation of censorship leaks to the outside, then I would be an enemy of the Catholic Church — and he would not wish that to anyone. He also declared that they would massively attack my good reputation and they would be forced to lay open the sort of difficulties they had with the institute [Pfeiffer's Krimonologisches Institut, Institute for Criminological Research, in Hannover]. He said that this would damage me, that I would regret it and that I would make a grave mistake if I did not sign [the contract].
Father Langendörfer did not distance himself during this conversation from Ackermann’s harsh words, according to the Pfeiffer interview.
Pfeiffer at the time responded with the words: “We won’t be bought!” He interpreted this Ackermann intervention as “moral blackmail.” “As a law expert, I would call this attempted coercion,” he told the Zeit.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Professor Mössle, who had been present at that crucial December 12 meeting with Bishop Ackermann and Father Langendörfer and asked him whether he could confirm Professor Pfeiffer’s description of that conversation. He answered, saying: “I can confirm what Christian [Pfeiffer] describes in his Zeit interview.” He continued:
Yes, we were offered to keep those funds that we had already received and which we had not yet spent (for use at the Institute). Yes, Mr. Ackermann [sic] threatened Christian, that is to say exactly then, when we stated that we would not accept the offer. I cannot remember exactly the words, but I remember well the content. It was about Christian’s good reputation which could be damaged and about the fact that one better not wish to have the Catholic Church as an enemy. As I recall, Mr. Ackermann did not formulate it in the active [indicative] mood, but, rather in the subjunctive mood, as a possible scenario. But this does not change anything with regard to the threat that was uttered.
Professor Mössle is no longer directly working with Professor Pfeiffer (who himself is now retired), but works in Villingen-Schwenningen as a criminology professor.
He added in comments to LifeSiteNews that he can confirm “the event in Munich.” “The drafts of a [new] contract that were presented to us came from there [Munich] and were not in accordance with academic freedom. It is certainly justified to call this attempted interference a wish for censorship.”
As a consequence of the fact that representatives of the Catholic Church in Germany threatened Professor Pfeiffer in the presence of other witnesses, Pfeiffer’s own Catholic wife left the Catholic Church and became a Protestant, with “a heavy heart,” as Pfeiffer explains in his interview with Die Zeit. Pfeiffer himself is a Protestant.
The proposed contract would have allowed Pfeiffer to keep the remaining 120,000 euros that had not yet been spent for other research projects, but he would have to promise not to accuse the German bishops of trying to censor his research. He would have been permitted to say publicly that the contract had been terminated “but not why,” the German professor explains.
Pfeiffer is of the opinion that the bishops, when they realized that his research “could hurt,” started to try to “control” his research “in nearly all aspects.” For him, “it was also about revealing that so many caught offenders [priests] remained employed [in the dioceses].”
After the falling out with the German bishops at the beginning of 2013, Pfeiffer explains that the Catholic Church in Germany under Cardinal Marx’s leadership tried to put a restraining order on him forbidding him to say in public that the German bishops tried to censor his work. They also tried to establish the rule that nothing of the study’s findings could be published without the approval of the German bishops. That is why the Church then lost two lawsuits against Pfeiffer, as he explains in the interview with Die Zeit. “I was permitted to continue to speak of censorship.” (See here an earlier German report on these legal matters. Pfeiffer, in his Zeit interview, reveals that a friend of his and a wealthy businessman, Dirk Rossmann, supported him financially in his legal dealings with the German bishops.)
Pfeiffer also reveals that, at the beginning of the research project, he was not aware of a Church rule that permits the destruction of abuse files after a ten-year period. This could be done when writing down a general summary of the abuser priest’s deeds without any specific information. “The destruction of files has made impossible any serious research about the victims and the offenders,” Pfeiffer explains. He adds that employees from several dioceses told him, as he started his research project, that files had been destroyed that should not have been destroyed. “Now things are being shredded,” Pfeiffer says, “because the researchers are coming.”
Cardinal Marx’s own diocese in Munich “denied” Pfeiffer any access to the files, referring to a study that the diocese had ordered and financed in 2010 and whose “results have been kept secret,” except for a eight-page-long description of the research methods and of some general findings.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Bishop Stephan Ackermann’s press office, as well as to Matthias Kopp, the speaker of the German Bishops’ Conference, with the explicit question as to whether Cardinal Marx, Father Langendörfer, and Bishop Ackermann would want to comment on the crucial meeting on December 12, 2012, at which the threats against Pfeiffer had been issued. Ackermann, Langendörfer, and Marx declined to respond to the accusation.
Mr. Kopp referred LifeSiteNews back to a document of the year 2013, in which the German Bishops’ Conference presents its own view as to why the research project with Professor Pfeiffer was terminated and in which any accusation of attempted restriction of academic freedom is strongly denied. “Nothing needs to be added here,” was Mr. Kopp’s comment. The report on the December 12 conversation was not denied.
Mrs. Judith Rupp, speaking for Bishop Ackermann, told LifeSiteNews: “I ask for your understanding that Bishop Ackermann does not comment on Professor Pfeiffer’s personal accusations against him.” She also attached the link to the 2013 statement of the German Bishops’ Conference.
It is to be seen whether or not these prominent representatives of the Catholic Church will be able to maintain their attitude of stonewalling in this important moral matter, especially in light of the sensitive matter of clerical sex abuses.
May 31, 2019 update:
Since publication of this report, LifeSiteNews has received a further confirmation of the expressed threats against Professor Christian Pfeiffer during his December 12, 2012 meeting with Bishop Stephan Ackermann. As one of Pfeiffer's long-term friends, Dirk Rossmann wrote to LifeSiteNews, saying that he can well remember Professor Pfeiffer's dispute with the German bishops over matters of freedom of research and he can also confirm the content of this controversial December 12 meeting.
“Immediately afterwards [after the meeting] Pfeiffer, being indignant and upset, informed me about the developments on that evening and about the possibility that he will now have to face a public legal dispute. He also told me at the time everything that he has now presented in the Zeit interview: starting with the attempt to motivate him with the offer that he may keep the remaining research funds, for him to be silent; and his answer: 'We will not be bought!”; up to Bishop Ackermann's threat to attack him massively in public should he speak in public about the Church's attempts at censorship. Subsequently, I had assured him that I would cover all of his lawyer's fees and other legal costs should it come to a legal dispute.”
Mr. Rossmann is the owner of a large company which is present in several countries in the world. Mr. Rossmann then recounts that which we reported in our own earlier report above, namely, that Professor Pfeiffer won two legal cases with the German Bishops' Conference. In the second legal case, Pfeiffer was successful in “forcing the Bishops' Conference to change its homepage. There, it had stated, against the truth, that the conflict [with Pfeiffer] had nothing to do with freedom of research.”
Mr. Rossmann concluded his witness with the words: “It was a joy for me to support Christian Pfeiffer in his legal procedures and thereby to make a contribution so that the truth would prevail.”
In the meantime, Professor Harald Dreßing, the head of the MSG study on clerical sexual abuse that was finally published in September of 2018, made several statements critical of the German bishops. He described a “defective” handling of the history of sexual abuse, pointing to the fact that so far not one bishop has taken personal responsibility and stepped back from his office. He calls for more research whereby “it could be well possible that there would be people detected who were responsible and who are still alive and even perhaps still in their [Church] offices.”
For him as a psychiatrist, “it was astonishing to see that after, the publication of our research results, there was much talk about shame and guilt, but not about concrete and personal responsibility.”
In a new May 31 intervention, Professor Dreßing repeated that he now expects that bishops and general vicars who were responsible for cover-up of sexual abuse will now resign from their offices. He also states that the abuse crisis is still not over since new abuse cases are still taking place in the Catholic Church.