Investigation into Regensburg choir finds more than 500 boys were abused

IMAGE: CNS photo/Armin Weigel, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — More than 500 boys suffered abuse
at the hands of dozens of teachers and priests at the school that trains the prestigious
boys choir of the Regensburg Cathedral in Germany, said an independent

Former students of the Domspatzen choir reported that the
physical, emotional and even sexual abuse at the school made life there like “a
prison, hell and a concentration camp,” said Ulrich Weber, the lawyer
leading the investigation of claims of abuse at the choir and two associated
boarding schools.

A “culture of silence” among church leaders and
members allowed such abuse to continue for decades, Weber said as he presented
the final report on his findings during a press conference in Regensburg July

The investigation, commissioned by the Diocese of
Regensburg, found that at least 547 former members of the Regensburg Domspatzen
boys choir in Germany were subjected to some form of abuse, according to
Vatican Radio. Of those victims, 67 students were victims of sexual violence, the
radio said.

The 440-page report, which spanned the years between 1945
and the early 1990s, found highly plausible accusations against 49 members of
the church of inflicting the abuse, with nine of them accused of being sexual
abusive. The Diocese of Regensburg and the Domspatzen choir supplied links to
the report and related news stories or resources on their respective web sites: and

In the report, Weber sharply criticized Cardinal Gerhard
Muller, who was bishop of Regensburg from 2002 until 2012, when Pope Benedict
appointed him to head the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Then-Bishop Muller had “a clear responsibility”
in the “strategic, organizational and communication weaknesses” that
marked the process he launched of reviewing allegations. Cardinal Muller had
ordered the creation of a commission to investigate and search through diocesan
archives in the wake of the 2010 abuse crisis.

One of the first Domspatzen student-victims to come
forward in 2010 with allegations of sexual abuse, Alexander Probst, told
Deutsche Welle July 18 that he had been very frustrated and angry with the way
then-Bishop Muller reacted to his claims. He said the bishop accused him of
denouncing the church.

In the interview, whose link could be found on the
Regensburg boys’ choir website, Probst said he felt the bishop actively
protected abusers, and that “it got even worse when he was appointed head
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; it was like putting a fox in
charge of the henhouse.”

“It was only after the new bishop of Regensburg,
Rudolf Voderholzer, realized that there was much more to all this than met the
eye when things began to get better. Starting in 2015, he personally wanted to
cooperate with us,” Probst said.

Widespread news of the suspected abuse first emerged in
2010 as religious orders and bishops’ conferences in Germany, Austria and the
Netherlands were faced with a flood new allegations of the sexual abuse of
children, mainly at Catholic schools.

The boys’ choir had been led between 1964 and 1994 by Msgr.
Georg Ratzinger, the older brother of retired Pope Benedict XVI.

In an interview with the German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse
in 2010, Msgr. Ratzinger apologized to victims at his former school, even
though he said he had been unaware of the alleged incidents.

“There was never any talk of sexual abuse problems,
and I had no idea that molestation was taking place,” the priest said, as
he recalled his 30 years as the school’s choirmaster.

Msgr. Ratzinger had said when he served at the school,
“there was a climate of discipline and rigor … but also of human
understanding, almost like a family.” He knew that the priest who headed
the school from 1953 until his death in 1992 had slapped boys in the face, but
said he had not considered such punishments “particularly brutal.”

“If I’d known the exaggerated vehemence with which
the director acted, I would have reacted,” he said in the 2010 interview.

In his report, Weber said Msgr. Ratzinger should have
known about at least some cases of physical violence, but that his role “was
still not at all clear.”

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical
Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Vatican Radio the new report
shows how Bishop Voderholzer “has taken seriously all the
allegations” and is “very courageous in taking on an issue that has
been looming for many years.”

It is only now that the facts have become “plain, in
the light of day” because of establishing and cooperating with a
professional, independent investigation, he said.

This latest report should inspire church leaders around
the world, Father Zollner said, “so that they do the same today because
this will help, first of all, those who have been harmed in the past.”

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.


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