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Priest criticizes German bishops for using ‘amateurish’ abuse study as basis for ‘synodal path’

The German bishops’ study on sex abuse is the ‘founding myth’ of the controversial 'synodal path,' the priest said.
Thu Feb 6, 2020 - 1:39 pm EST
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Cardinal Reinhard Marx at the German bishops' 'synodal path' assembly, Jan. 2020. Rudolf Gehrig / CNA Deutsch

February 6, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The synodal path in Germany is usually justified by referring to a study on sexual abuse within the Church, commissioned by the German bishops’ conference. Father Dominikus Kraschl, a Franciscan professor of philosophy in Switzerland, calls into question the “founding myth” of the synodal path in a background piece for Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagespost.

Only days before the assembly of the synodal path, which consists of 230 members, first met in January, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, had said in an interview published by the diocesan newspapers, “The themes of the Synodal Way came out of the study on abuse.”

At the press conference marking the opening of the first synodal assembly, Marx confirmed: “You all know that the starting point is a crisis, a shock. The so-called MHG Study has been an important step on the path of coming to terms with the crisis, which path we have been following since 2010, and the bishops’ conference has commissioned this study. This has happened for the first time in this way.”

However, admitting that the issues discussed by the synodal path are not new, the archbishop of Munich continued, “Some questions from this study, which specifically touch on the systemic points of church life, also touch on the points that have been discussed again and again in the last decades.”

Thomas Sternberg, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, said in his speech at the beginning of the first synodal assembly: “The themes of the synodal path are the themes of the project of an interdisciplinary research network on the subject of sexual abuse of clergy in the past 70 years, the MHG study, for short. This study identifies issues that promote abuse: the use of power in dioceses and parishes, the problems of priestly life today, a sexual morality that is hardly understood and lived anymore, and the participation of women in ministries and offices.”

According to Franciscan Father Dominikus Kraschl, however, Sternberg’s claims do not actually follow from the study. As a matter of fact, the study itself cautioned, “All findings are purely descriptive. Due to the research method, a statistical proof of causal connections between individual phenomena or variables is not possible.”

Even though the study makes some suggestions, argues Kraschl, those suggestions “leave a strange, not to say amateurish, impression.”

When it comes to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, the authors of the study “seriously believe that they can sweep the same off the table” just like that, “with the clueless reference to ‘findings of modern sexual medicine.’” Kraschl asks, “Do the authors not know how to distinguish between medicine and morality? Or do they think that Church doctrine qualifies homosexuality as a disease? Be that as it may. All in all, the authors raise the suspicion that they have rather twisted ideas about the Church’s sexual morality.”

Kraschl also points to other “irritating” claims of the study, including its criticism of the term “deep-seated homosexual tendency,” which according to the study has no scientific foundation.

“The authors hasten to assure us that the complex phenomenon of homosexuality, which includes homosexual subcultures, is not a risk factor” when it comes to sexual abuse of minors,  Kraschl writes

Referring to a recent study’s findings, according to which the number of abuse cases in the context of sports organizations was almost twice as high as in the Catholic Church, Kraschl asks, “What does this mean for the prevention of abuse within the church? Hardly that we, despite all justification to look at systemic questions, should focus exclusively on Church-specific topics and hastily turn the abuse debate into one that is limited to the Church, in which conservative and progressive forces fight each other.”

Kraschl concludes: “These considerations nourish the suspicion that not prudence and expertise, but an agenda of ecclesiastical politics, were the driving forces in the choice of topics.”

“As long as empirically unproven suppositions and myths are repeated until they are considered proven facts, neither the victims of sexual abuse nor serious scientific studies on the subject are taken seriously,” he added.

Manfred Lütz, a German psychiatrist and theologian, had already criticized the value of the study on sexual abuse commissioned by the German bishops when it first came out in 2018.

Without mincing words, Lütz said at that time: “Anyone who reads the whole study is alienated by the unscientific style of wide passages, by a feuilleton style and anecdotal remarks, as well as by the almost complete lack of scientific and critical discussion of the results.”


  catholic, dominikus kraschl, german bishops, mhg study, reinhard marx, sex abuse, synodal path

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