At Least 231 Children Allegedly Abused at German Boys’ Choir Run by Former Pope’s Brother
More than 200 children were allegedly beaten, starved and sexually abused over a period of four decades at a German boys’ choir run by the brother of former pope Benedict XVI.
The Independent reports Ulrich Weber, an attorney commissioned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Regensburg to investigate allegations of abuse, said he received 231 reports of physical abuse at Regensburger Domspatzen, a 1,000-year-old boarding school and choir in Regensburg, Bavaria. The choir was run by Pope Benedict’s elder brother, Georg Ratzinger, from 1964 to 1994.
The alleged abuse occurred between 1953 and 1992 and included offenses ranging from rape and sexual assault to severe beatings and food deprivation. Of the 231 alleged victims, Weber said 50 made “plausible” claims of sexual abuse, which occurred mostly in the 1970s and was allegedly committed by some 10 perpetrators.
Franz Wittenbrink, a renowned German composer and director who attended the boarding school, told Der Spiegel in 2010 that there was a “system of sadistic punishments connected to sexual pleasure” there.
In a Sunday interview published in Passauer Neue Presse, Georg Ratzinger, 91, denied any knowledge that boys were being abused in the choir he supervised.
“I did not hear anything at all about sexual abuse,” said Ratzinger. “I was not aware that any sexual abuse was taking place at that time.”
Weber, however, believes Ratzinger must have known about what was allegedly happening on his watch.
“The events were known internally and criticized, but they had almost no consequences,” he said.
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer said the allegations were painful to confront.
“It hurts me and my soul,” he said, according to the Independent. “Behind every single case is a human being, a child’s soul severely tortured and often marked for life by these acts. I cannot undo it and can only ask the victims for forgiveness.”
Voderholzer added that he would personally meet with any victims who wished to speak with him and added that he believes two unnamed former school officials imposed a “system of terror” on pupils.
“It is not up to me to pass judgement on the perpetrators because they have died,” he said. “They must answer to the judgement of Christ.”
Ronald Büchner, the current director of the choir, said he welcomed Weber’s findings as an important step toward transparency.
“The number of victims named in this interim report horrifies us, and we would like to stress that every one deeply affects and renders us speechless,” Büchner told the New York Times. “Consequently, we would like to take this opportunity to again, with deepest shock and shame, express our apologies to the victims in the Domspatzen and its associated institutions.”
Ireland’s The Journal reports the Regensburg Diocese last year acknowledged 72 cases of abuse and offered victims compensation of €2,500 ($2,720) each.
Several other Roman Catholic institutions in Germany are also reeling from continued clergy sex abuse scandals, including Canisius College, an elite Jesuit school in Berlin where officials admitted that two priests systematically sexually abused students in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals in Germany fit into a worldwide pattern of abuse committed by at least thousands of priests and other clergymen. In April 2014, Pope Francis I apologized for what he called the “evil” sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests. By the Pope’s own estimation, 2 percent of Catholic priests and clergy—about 9,000 individuals—are pedophiles.
“That two percent includes priests and even bishops and cardinals,” the Pope told Italy’s La Repubblica in July 2014.
Pope Francis has vowed to tackle the pedophile priest problem and “confront it with the severity it demands.” In addition to appointing a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to deal with the issue, the Pope has met with victims of abuse and asked for their forgiveness. However, he has also been criticized for not making clergy child sex abuse a top priority.
In the United States, the Catholic Church has paid out nearly $3 billion to victims of sexually abusive clergy. Numerous US archdioceses have declared bankruptcy due to financial strain from settling clergy sex abuse claims.