Abuse in the Church: “A Clerical System of Cover-ups”


Status: 03.02.2022 07:01 a.m

Dealing with the abuse scandals should also determine the consultations on the synodal path. Harald Dressing accuses the church of “systematic cover-up”. He is a co-author of the 2018 abuse study.

tagesschau.de: Catholic bishops and laypeople will meet again until Saturday to discuss reforms, the so-called synodal path. Her 2018 study was the starting point for this reform process. What was the atmosphere like when you presented the study with bishops at a press conference?

Harald Dressing: I have said to Cardinal Marx and Abuse Commissioner Bishop Ackerman that questions of responsibility and consequences are about to come. They seemed rather surprised and unprepared.

To person

Prof. Dr. Harald Dressing is head of the forensic psychiatry department at the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim. The study he led on “Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male members of religious orders in the area of ​​the German Bishops’ Conference” (MHG study) was presented in September 2018.

tagesschau.de: No sense of responsibility?

Dreßing: At least publicly, no one initially took personal responsibility.

tagesschau.de: Now it has become known that the German Pope Josef Ratzinger also covered up abuse during his time as Archbishop of Munich.

Dreßing: All this is no surprise since the publication of the MHG study since 2018. What is new is that names are now also mentioned. But that’s no surprise either, because we were already able to show empirically in our study back then: The cases of sexual abuse were systematically covered up, for example by being transferred.

tagesschau.de: And the bishops are responsible for this?

Dreßing: Naturally. But such decisions are not made entirely alone. But there are meetings of the spiritual council or ordinariate conferences. There are several higher-ranking clerics sitting there, and they should also have noticed such cases. However, I have not heard from any cleric of this hierarchical level that he would have said of his own accord, without being proven,: I made a mistake and I am ready to take responsibility.

tagesschau.de: Cardinal Marx and the Archbishop of Hamburg, Hess, have offered to resign.

Dreßing: Relatively late, I have to say. But at least. And then they say from Rome: We will not accept this resignation! I recently read an interview by Father Zollner, who also comes from this church institution and who says: If someone wants to resign, then he can also resign. Such an assumption of responsibility, which is not limited to mere statements, would also be an important and long overdue signal for those affected.

tagesschau.de: Now the church is talking about shaking again. Presumably, the reform discussions these days will initially only be about the Ratzinger case.

Dreßing: I ask myself: how many more rituals of shame and remorse do we need? The repetition doesn’t actually make it any more believable. A clerical system of cover-up shows itself again and again. It just admits what you really can no longer dispute and even then editorial errors are still offered as an explanation.

A national truth commission is needed

tagesschau.de: Before a reform debate, should there have been a more comprehensive explanation?

Dreßing: Our 2018 work on abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany, the MHG study, is a scientific study. This is not a revision. In fact, it was a basis on which to start working on it. We also tried very hard to get funds for a large national dark field study – also in Berlin. Interest has been expressed, but nothing has been funded so far. It cannot be that every diocese itself starts to commission another study or set up a commission.

We really need a national truth commission now. That would have to be put on a legal basis. This commission would need access rights to files, for example to meeting minutes from professorships. The fact that these legal framework conditions are not in place has also failed politicians so far. The previous church and state structures are not sufficient for dealing with the abuse. In my opinion, this requires a courageous and new approach that reveals everything. This could also be a starting point that could enable the church to regain new confidence as a moral authority.

The interview was conducted by Sebastian Kisters, HR

synodal path

The third synodal assembly will take place in Frankfurt from February 3rd to 5th. The term “synodal path” refers to the Greek word synod. It literally means “companion along the way”; in ecclesiastical usage, synod means an assembly of bishops or of clergy and laity. In their reform dialogue on the synodal path, the German Catholic bishops and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) want to discuss the future of church life in Germany. The starting point is a long-standing church crisis that the abuse scandal has exacerbated.


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