- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010


BERLIN — Catholic authorities in Germany announced two major abuse investigations Wednesday — one into the renowned choir once led by Pope Benedict XVI’s brother and another into what everyone, including the pope, knew about the sexual and physical abuse of students.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Regensburg in southern Germany said it has appointed an independent investigator to examine the allegations of physical and sexual abuse that have engulfed the prestigious Regensburger Domspatzen (“Cathedral Sparrows”) boys choir, which was led by the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the pope’s elder brother, from 1964 until 1994. So far, the sexual abuse allegations predate Father Ratzinger’s term.

Diocese spokesman Jacob Schoetz said that Nuremberg lawyer Andreas Scheulen was named to lead the inquiry and all charges will be investigated thoroughly.

“The independent lawyer will thoroughly go through all existing legal papers, all court decisions and any information available,” Mr. Schoetz said. “We expect to publish first results within the next two weeks.”

In addition, the German Bishops Conference said it would look into wider-ranging allegations across the country after more than 170 students at Catholic schools have said they were sexually or physically abused decades ago.

That investigation also will examine allegations of sexual abuse at the choir and look into what, if anything, Pope Benedict XVI himself knew in his previous position as the archbishop of Munich and Freising, prelate Karl Juesten told the Associated Press.

“We do not know if the pope knew about the abuse cases at the time,” Father Juesten said. “However, we assume that this is not the case.”

Archbishop of Munich-Freising Reinhard Marx will be “certainly investigating these questions,” he said.

Father Juesten, the liaison between Roman Catholic bishops and the German government, also praised Father Ratzinger, the pope’s brother, for apologizing to victims on Tuesday for doing nothing decades ago to stop the beating of students.

Father Ratzinger said students told him of allegations of physical abuse at an elementary school in Germany decades ago and apologized for doing nothing about it.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Father Ratzinger said he had no further comment on the matter.

Father Ratzinger first said he was unaware of any abuse, and Fther Juesten said that others should follow the 86-year-old Father 4Ratzinger’s lead in coming clean.

“The other perpetrators should follow the example set by Mr. Ratzinger and apologize to the victims for the abuse they have committed,” he said.

However, the pope’s brother has said he was unaware of allegations of sexual abuse at his own choir — incidents alleged to have occurred before Father Ratzinger led the choir.

The Roman Catholic Church has been hit by years of abuse claims in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia and other countries. Yet the German abuse allegations are particularly sensitive because Germany is the pope’s homeland and because the scandals involve the prestigious choir led by his brother for 30 years.

Father Juesten said it was not known whether Pope Benedict, who served as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982, was aware of any of the child abuse cases that took place then at Catholic schools and other institutions. The Domspatzen choir reported to the bishop of Regensburg and not to the archbishop of Munich-Freising.

Father Juesten also called Father Ratzinger’s apology to the victims an act of courage.

“It is certainly not easy for such a man to publicly apologize,” Father Juesten said.

Mr. Schoetz, the spokesman for the Regensburg Diocese, said there were several cases of sexual abuse by two priests at the choir in 1958 and 1959.

“Sentences have been handed down; the accused have been punished and have since died,” Mr. Schoetz said.

However, Mr. Scheulen will be asked to collect any type of other information or allegations on all possible cases of physical or sexual abuse, he said.

Franz Wittenbrink, 61, who sang with the Regensburger Domspatzen from 1958 to 1967, said he was physically abused on a regular basis by the priests at its boarding school.

“Severe beatings were normal, but Father Ratzinger did not belong to the group of more sadistic abusers,” Mr. Wittenbrink said in a phone interview with the AP from Hamburg. “But I do accuse him of covering up the abuses.”

Mr. Wittenbrink said all boys suffered some physical abuse but a “selected group” of students also was abused sexually.

Another former choir boy in the Domspatzen told the daily newspaper Bild Zeitung that he and other boys were abused sexually by teachers at the choir’s boarding school in the 1950s. Manfred von Hove was quoted as saying he “finally wants to have answers and find out who was responsible for the cover-up at the time.”

He said he planned to sue the Regensburg Diocese for compensation.

Mr. von Hove’s telephone number is not listed, and he could not be reached for comment.

Father Ratzinger repeatedly has said the sexual abuse allegations date from before his tenure as choir director.

“These things were never discussed,” Father Ratzinger told Tuesday’s Passauer Neue Presse German daily. “The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of.”

Father Ratzinger did admit to slapping students in the face as punishment for many years, but said he was happy when corporal punishment was made illegal in 1980. Corporal punishment was standard in German schools until the reform movement of the 1960s.

Yet the allegations of beatings from one elementary school at Etterzhausen, however, go far beyond the norm of corporal punishment.

Rudolf Neumaier, a student at Domspatzen Preschool in Pielenhofen in 1981 and 1982, told the AP he was slapped there, witnessed corporal punishment of other boys and saw then-director Johann Meier hit an 8-year-old boy with a chair.

Mr. Neumaier, who went on to join the Domspatzen in Regensburg in 1982, stressed he did not witness or hear about any abuse at the choir boarding school itself, but he said he personally told Father Ratzinger about the violence at the preschool but Father Ratzinger did nothing about it.

“I told Ratzinger myself, but he chose not to listen,” Mr. Neumaier said.

Mr. Neumaier said he was shocked to find out that Mr. Meier, the school director, stayed in his job until 1992, even though Mr. Neumaier could not say whether he exerted corporal punishment with “the same intensity” after 1982.

The schools at Etterzhausen and Pielenhofen, where severe beatings have been reported, were two feeder schools for Father Ratzinger’s choir, and Father Ratzinger said Tuesday that boys had told him about being mistreated at Etterzhausen but he did not understand how bad it was.

Germany’s abuse cases are expected to be brought up Friday at the Vatican when the head of the German Bishops Conference, Bishop Robert Zollitsch, holds a regular meeting with the pope.

The German government also has announced plans for “round table” meetings involving school, church and other representatives to work on ways of detecting, preventing and dealing with future abuse. The first meeting is set for April 23.

Associated Press writer Juergen Baetz contributed to this report from Regensburg.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide