Novak (novak) wrote,

  • Location:
  • Mood:

Theological Notebook: Articles Continued

ARTICLES CONTINUED (For my own future reference, and for anyone else interested.)

How a Molesting Case Emerged Decades Later
Top European Clerics Defend Benedict
German archbishop says church failed abuse victims
Christians converge on Jerusalem for Good Friday
More-secular Poland marks Pope John Paul's death
Poland marks John Paul's death on Good Friday

How a Molesting Case Emerged Decades Later
By NICHOLAS KULISH for The New York Times
Published: April 1, 2010

ESSEN, Germany — The case that has raised questions about the future pope’s handling of a pedophile priest in Germany came to light three decades after it occurred, and then almost by chance. It happened when Wilfried Fesselmann, an early victim, said he stumbled on Internet photographs of the priest who sexually abused him, still working with children.

Mr. Fesselmann, who had long remained silent about the abuse he suffered in 1979, said the pictures stunned him and spurred him to contact his abuser. Thus began the convoluted process, which included an extortion investigation against Mr. Fesselmann for the emotionally raw e-mail messages he sent the church in 2008 demanding compensation, that ultimately put Pope Benedict XVI in an uncomfortable spotlight.

After the police investigated him for blackmail, Mr. Fesselmann did not discuss his charges publicly until last month. By that time, molesting of children by other priests had exploded into public view in Germany, with scores of investigations into old and new cases capturing headlines nationwide.

The fact that it took so long before the Roman Catholic Church took action against the abusive priest, and that the victim initially had to defend himself, is an indication that the German church — as well as Germany’s police, courts and society at large — are still in the early stages of reckoning on a psychologically fraught issue that many Germans once dismissed as an American problem.

Mr. Fesselmann also had no way of knowing that his case would create repercussions for the church that went well beyond his own grievance. His and other cases of abuse caused the church to transfer the abusive priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, to Munich in 1980, a decision that required the approval of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the archbishop of Munich and Freising, now the pope. Father Hullermann was given therapy in Munich, but he was allowed to resume his pastoral duties almost immediately.

Father Hullermann went on to molest other boys and was not formally suspended until last month, after the German church acknowledged that “bad mistakes” were made in the handling of his case. The church said the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties in 1980 was made solely by Cardinal Ratzinger’s top aide at the time, but church officials also said the future pope was sent a memo about the reassignment.

While the church has acknowledged Father Hullermann’s extensive history of sexual abuse, there have been no court proceedings on Mr. Fesselmann’s claims.

Three decades after Mr. Fesselmann said Father Hullermann forced him, then 11, to perform oral sex on him, he saw pictures of the priest — older and now heavy-set, but still recognizable — working with children in Bavaria, at the opposite end of the country.

Mr. Fesselmann sent intermittent e-mail messages to Father Hullermann over the next year and a half. The messages were unsigned but sent from his personal account. In his messages he threatened to go public and asked about victims’ compensation. The e-mail was answered not by Father Hullermann but by diocesan authorities in Munich, who asked Mr. Fesselmann to give them his full name so they could look into his charges.

He did not, but on the morning of April 24, 2008, while he was still corresponding with the archdiocese, six men appeared unannounced at his home in Essen: two police officers from Bavaria, two police officers from Essen, a city official and a representative of the church.

“They said that they were there at 10 o’clock out of consideration, because my children were in school by then,” said Mr. Fesselmann, now 41, an unemployed father of three.

Prosecutors in Traunstein, the town in deeply Catholic Bavaria where Pope Benedict grew up, were investigating Mr. Fesselmann on charges of blackmail.

Church officials say that in this case they did exactly what they have been criticized so often for not doing: They referred the case to prosecutors rather than handling it internally. From there, it was prosecutors who chose to open the blackmail investigation.

“It is our duty to determine if there are criminal offenses, without pursuing them from any particular direction,” said Günther Hammerdinger, a spokesman for the Traunstein prosecutors office. “Since the possible sexual offenses were clearly past the statute of limitations, no investigative proceedings against the priest were started.”

Pressure on Mr. Fesselmann began long before he ever considered going public. He said that he was assaulted by other members of his church youth group, who blamed him for the suspension of Father Hullermann, a popular young chaplain, in 1979 and his later departure for Munich. Mr. Fesselmann’s devoutly religious parents were not among the three sets of parents who brought accusations to the priest in charge of St. Andreas Church at the time, charges Father Hullermann did not deny, according to the Essen Diocese.

“You weren’t supposed to say anything against the church,” Mr. Fesselmann said of his upbringing. On her deathbed in 2000, his mother asked him “to forget the whole thing and not to do anything about it,” Mr. Fesselmann said. He had told a friend about the abuse, whose parents then complained to the church.

Relatively few victims have come forward publicly in Germany to tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of priests, as Mr. Fesselmann did in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung last month. Culturally, Germany is more reserved, and its people less demonstrative and emotionally open than in the United States.

The atmosphere for victims of sexual abuse in Europe today is similar to what it was nearly a decade ago in the United States, where victims viewed themselves as isolated cases and did not see the point in coming forward, said Barbara Blaine, president of the advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

“There doesn’t seem to be an environment where victims feel safe or free to speak up,” Ms. Blaine said.

Nor can victims in Germany expect the kind of million-dollar payouts that some American victims have received. Manuela Groll, a lawyer in Berlin representing 15 students who say they were abused at Jesuit high schools in Germany, said that the highest civil judgment for a case of severe sexual abuse of a minor that she could find was less than $70,000 and a small monthly stipend.

Mr. Fesselmann, who as an adult had panic attacks that he said his therapist told him were a result of childhood trauma, said he wanted Father Hullermann to confess what he had done and stop working with children.

A large man with a gentle manner, Mr. Fesselmann was no stranger to public attention. He has written two books on living well off the German welfare system, and appeared on television many times here.

Mr. Fesselmann originally requested to have his full name kept out of media reports, and was cited only as Wilfried F. by The New York Times in a previous article. But his full name was published last month — against his wishes, he said — in Germany’s largest-circulation newspaper, the tabloid Bild.

After his initial e-mail messages in 2006, a year and a half went by before he again e-mailed Father Hullermann and again received a response from a representative of the archdiocese handling child-abuse cases, Msgr. Siegfried Kneissl.

In printed copies of e-mail messages from April 2008 provided by Mr. Fesselmann, Monsignor Kneissl encouraged him to come forward and allow church officials to check out his story.

In his response, sent on April 18, Mr. Fesselmann sounded angry and impatient, scolding Monsignor Kneissl for misspelling the name of the pedophile priest and writing that he had until April 30 to respond with “your offer with a financial allotment.” According to the prosecutor’s office in Traunstein, the investigation against Mr. Fesselmann had already begun, on April 15, 2008.

Criminal police officers from the nearby Bavarian town of Mühldorf visited Mr. Fesselmann on April 24, the prosecutors office in Traunstein confirmed. Prosecutors also questioned Father Hullermann, but he was not investigated by the office at that time or since.

But the priest was re-evaluated by church officials. He was relieved of his duties in the town of Garching an der Alz on May 6, 2008, and later sent to work in the spa town of Bad Tölz, on the condition that he no longer work with children. Father Hullermann was suspended last month, three days after his case became public, after the news media reported that he was still working with children in his new position. Last week, new accusations of sexual abuse emerged, both from his first assignment near Essen in the 1970s and from 1998 in Garching.

Three weeks after the police visited his home, Mr. Fesselmann received a letter in the mail from prosecutors, saying that the investigation had been dropped as of May 14, 2008. “The defense of the accused cannot be disproved, that he had no intention to ask for money or to be compensated, but that instead he intended to get proof of the incidents between him and the witness Hullermann,” the letter said.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 2, 2010, on page A4 of the New York edition.

Top European Clerics Defend Benedict
Published: April 1, 2010

ROME — Several prominent European churchmen on Thursday denounced suggestions that Pope Benedict XVI was anything but a vigorous defender of victims of priestly sexual abuse, arguing that the pope should not be criticized for his oversight of such cases.

“Deceitful accusations have been leveled against he who has done, and does, so much to remove ‘every filth’ ” from the priesthood, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the patriarch of Venice, said at a Mass there. Cardinal Scola, a major figure in the Italian church, repeated the pope’s words that pedophilia was “an odious crime but also a scandalously grave sin.”

The comments came as the Roman Catholic Church gears up for Easter Sunday, the holiest day on the Christian calendar, and were made on Holy Thursday, a day dedicated to the reaffirmation of priestly vows and to the bond between a bishop and his priests. The comments emerged after weeks of extensive reporting on sexual abuse in the church by the news media and increasing anger among many European Catholics about bishops’ handling of abuse cases.

The pope celebrated a Mass in the morning for his priests and bishops in St. Peter’s Basilica and an evening Mass at St. John Lateran in Rome, where he carried out the tradition of washing the feet of 12 priests. Benedict did not refer to the scandal in his homilies.

Speculation has circulated that the pope may do so on Good Friday, when he takes part in the Way of the Cross ceremonies at the Colosseum, observing Jesus’s final hours and his crucifixion. Shortly before Benedict became pope in 2005, he used meditations he wrote for the Way of the Cross services to denounce “filth” in the church.

On Wednesday, Cardinal William J. Levada, an American who leads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, provided a lengthy defense of Benedict’s record on handling abuse cases in an interview with The New York Times and a statement posted on the Vatican Web site. He singled out The Times for what he called unfair coverage, addressing specifically a report about a Wisconsin priest who abused up to 200 deaf boys from 1950 to 1974.

The pope has also come under scrutiny for his actions as archbishop of Munich and Freising when a pedophile priest there was transferred back into ministry in 1980.

On Thursday, other cardinals joined the fray. The archbishop of Warsaw, Kazimierz Nycz, faulted news organizations for “targeting the whole church, targeting the pope,” The Associated Press reported. “To that we must say no in the name of truth and in the name of justice,” Archbishop Nycz said.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the leader of the Austrian church, told reporters on Thursday, “I can say with certainty that, in his role as chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had a very clear line of not covering up, but clearing up.”

Reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, after a rampant scandal in 2002 and 2003 in the United States, have gathered a storm in Europe in recent months. Cases have emerged in bulk in the pope’s native Germany and in Ireland, and to some extent in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.

While suggestions that the pope should assume any responsibility for the scandals has prompted angry reaction from prelates, at the same time bishops have been speaking up to denounce the transgressions of some of their priests. They are following the lead of Benedict, who expressed “shame and remorse” and partly blamed bishops in a letter issued last month that was directed at the church in Ireland, where the scandal has been most widespread in Europe.

The chairwoman of We Are Church, a movement of Catholics seeking changes in church policy, said some of the European bishops seemed sincere, while “maybe other ones” wanted just to appease those protesting the abuse. “At least it’s important that they are reacting and pretending not to hide,” said the official, Raquel Mallavibarrena, in Madrid.

Elsewhere, the Swiss bishops conference issued a statement recognizing that it had “undervalued the breadth of the phenomenon.” It said leaders of dioceses and religious orders had made “errors,” and asked for pardon. The Swiss bishops also encouraged victims to report abuse to the authorities.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 2, 2010, on page A8 of the New York edition.

German archbishop says church failed abuse victims
Apr 2, 9:53 AM (ET)

BERLIN (AP) - The head of Germany's Roman Catholic bishops said in an unusually forthright Good Friday statement that the church in the pope's homeland failed to help victims of clerical sex abuse because it wanted to protect its reputation.

A victims' group that runs a new hot line in Austria said that dozens of people had reported new allegations of sexual abuse by priests and Catholic church employees, and about 100 others had described verbal or physical mistreatment.

In Italy, the prosecutor who oversees sex-crime cases in Milan told the Il Giornale newspaper that there is a long list of priests who are under investigation for alleged sex abuse. He did not elaborate.

The Catholic church has been rocked by a widening abuse scandal in Pope Benedict XVI's homeland and across Europe in recent weeks as hundreds of allegations of harsh physical punishment and sexual abuse have been made.

Clerics have neglected helping abuse victims by a "wrongly intended desire to protect the church's reputation," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg said on the day that Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The news about sexual and physical abuse of children by priests and other employees leaves the church with "sadness, horror and shame," he said.

Reports of new cases have been cropping up almost daily in neighboring Austria, where the country's top Catholic, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, held a service for victims and acknowledged church guilt in the controversy this week.

Austria's Platform Of Those Affected By Church Violence - a group that includes victims, psychologists, psychiatrists and lawyers - said about 150 people had called a new hot line, with about a third claiming they had been sexually abused and the rest reporting physical or verbal abuse.

"We're dealing with a lot of sadistic education methods from the 60s and 70s," Holger Eich, who supervises the hot line, told reporters. "I hope that most of these methods are no longer being used in church institutions - but I'm not sure."

Zollitsch condemned what he called "the appalling crimes of sexual abuse" and urged the German Catholic church to face its painful record on the handling these cases.

The church is appalled by the harm done to victims who were often unable to speak about their pain for decades, he said.

"Wounds were inflicted that are hardly curable," the bishop added.

Zollitsch urged all priests in his diocese to pray during Good Friday services for abuse victims whose bodies and souls were hurt within the church's community, to whom "great injustice was done."

Cardinal Karl Lehman, the bishop of the German city of Mainz, echoed Zollitsch's tough stance and called perpetrators of sexual abuse traitors of the gospel.

"They weaken and betray the gospel of Jesus Christ who himself has put a special emphasis on the children," he said is his homily.

In 1980, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, allowed a pedophile priest to be transferred from the northwestern city of Essen to undergo therapy in Munich, where he was then archbishop.

The Munich archdiocese says Benedict wasn't involved in a lower-ranking official's later decision to allow the priest to return to pastoral work. The Rev. Peter Hullermann went on to work with youths again and was sentenced for sexual abuse in 1986.

Germany's prestigious Regensburg Domspatzen boys choir once led by the pope's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, as well as the school that sends many students to the choir, also have faced allegations of sexual and more general physical abuse.

An Associated Press tally has documented 73 cases with allegations of sexual abuse by priests against minors over the past decade in Italy, with more than 235 victims.

Italian prosecutor Pietro Forno said that once investigations have gotten under way, church officials have never tried to interfere or hinder the probes. But he added, "In the many years that I have dealt with this, never - and I stress, never - have I received a single complaint from bishops, or priests. And that's a bit odd."

The interview with Il Giornale, a conservative national daily, was published Thursday.

On Holy Thursday, cardinals across Europe used their sermons to defend Pope Benedict XVI from accusations he played a role in covering up sex abuse scandals, and an increasingly angry Vatican sought to deflect any criticism in the Western media.


Oleksyn reported from Vienna. Associated Press Writer Alessandra Rizzo in Rome contributed to this report.

Christians converge on Jerusalem for Good Friday
Apr 2, 9:24 AM (ET)


JERUSALEM (AP) - The cobblestone alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City became moving forests of wooden crosses as Christian pilgrims and clergymen commemorated the day of Jesus' crucifixion, Good Friday.

Black-robed nuns filed past metal barriers erected by police as dozens of tourists in matching red baseball hats held up digital cameras. Some pilgrims carried elaborately carved crucifixes, while others had crude crosses made of two planks held together with tape.

Good Friday rituals center on the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christian tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

While Catholics and Orthodox Christians follow different calendars, this year their Easters coincide and the churches are commemorating Good Friday together.

Watching as hundreds pressed through the narrow Jerusalem street called the Via Dolorosa - the "Way of Suffering," tracing Jesus' final steps - was Katy Fitzpatrick, 24, Spokane, Washington. She said the event was both "exciting" and "a little overwhelming."

"It's a little intimidating, and the riot gear is a little intimidating too," she said of the heavy presence of green-clad Israeli police deployed to keep the peace.

Around midday, an American church group performed a reenactment of Jesus' walk to his crucifixion - including an actor who played Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns and carrying a heavy cross, who was led by other actors dressed as Roman legionnaires.

Amalia Daskalaki, 71, from the Greek island of Crete, said this was her third visit to Jerusalem for Good Friday and that she was moved each time. "It's so nice. I like to cry all the time," she said.

Amid the crush of Christians from all over the world, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man in black tried to make his way along the crowded street by pressing against one of the walls. Jews are currently celebrating the weeklong spring holiday of Passover, and thousands of Jewish pilgrims and tourists were also in the Old City.

In addition, Muslims were holding weekly Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, located in a compound they call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount. The disputed compound has been the scene of recent clashes between Muslims and Israeli police.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said around 2,500 policemen had spread out in and around the Old City to enable all three faiths to observe their rituals. No disturbances were reported Friday.

More-secular Poland marks Pope John Paul's death
Apr 2, 11:21 AM (ET)


WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Believers clutching rosaries gathered before sunrise on Good Friday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Polish pontiff John Paul II's death, alongside a reenactment of Christ's crucifixion.

An actor playing Jesus buckling under the weight of a cross as brown-robed friars and other faithful followed him in the rain. Most of the hundreds of faithful at the southern Polish pilgrimage site of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska were elderly, a sign of Poland's slow but significant move away from the church five years after John Paul's death.

Poland remains perhaps the most religiously observant country in Europe and churches are still packed, but they are slightly less full every year, with studies showing the numbers of those who attend regularly are on a slow decline, said sociologist Edmund Wnuk-Lipinskia professor and the dean of Collegium Civitas, a Warsaw university.

The number of Polish men starting study programs to become priests and monks fell from 1,500 to 953 between 2004, the year before the pope's death, and 2008, according to church figures.

Shopping malls seem to have as many people as pews on Sunday mornings, and openly gay couples can be seen more in public, an extremely rare sight during John Paul's lifetime.

John Paul was elected pope in 1978 and played a pivotal role in Polish history, inspiring the birth of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement that helped bring down communism, raising spirits during a martial law crackdown in the 1980s and bolstering the Polish church as it supported the democracy struggle.

His warmth and charisma also won him great affection in his homeland, and teenagers across this country of 38 million considered him a role model.

In Warsaw Friday night, a Way of the Cross procession will culminate at Warsaw's Pilsudski Square, where the newly elected John Paul delivered a Mass in 1979 in which he subtly challenged the communist leadership and inspired the anti-communist movement. The re-enactment of the crucifixion will take place on that spot in the evening with the faithful to mark the moment - 9:37 p.m. - when John Paul died.

But the pro-church Gazeta Polska weekly lamented on Wednesday that "10 years ago it was the Holy Father who was the main authority for school children, after their parents. But, in a survey last year, television stars ranked at the top."

Some worry that Poland, which is growing increasingly wealthy, will start to resemble other traditionally Catholic countries, like France and Spain, where church attendance is much lower.

"In Europe, churches are becoming increasingly empty," said Kazimierz Kik, a political scientist with Kielce University. "It is possible that Poland will be the very last country where churches will become empty, but still you can see the process of gradual secularization here, especially among young people and chiefly among those who travel to the West."

For now, Poland's Catholics remain strongly attached to the church, which has preserved Polish culture and kept up spirits over centuries of foreign domination.

John Paul remains a highly revered figure and his successor Benedict is more popular here than in his German homeland. The clerical sex abuse scandal rocking the U.S. and Europe has not touched Poland in a significant way, getting little media attention and sparking almost no public debate.

An opinion poll by the CBOS institute last week showed that 68 percent of Poland's 38 million citizens have a positive view of the Catholic church, a five point increase over September; 23 percent have a negative opinion.

Conservative moral values also still hold sway, with a different poll, by GfK Polonia, showing last week that 80 percent of Poles oppose homosexual marriage and that a majority supports the country's restrictive abortion laws. Both polls have margins of error of about plus or minus 3 percentage points.


Associated Press writer Katarzyna Mala in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska contributed to this report.

Poland marks John Paul's death on Good Friday
Apr 2, 5:48 AM (ET)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Predominantly Catholic Poland is marking the fifth anniversary of the death of its native son, Pope John Paul II, along with the traditional Good Friday processions and reenactments of Christ's death.

The Archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, noted the emotional symbolism of the anniversary falling on the day when the Catholic church remembers Christ's death. Dziwisz, formerly John Paul's private secretary, spoke at a Way of the Cross procession in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a pilgrimage site.

A similar procession will be held in Warsaw in the evening.

Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz said that John Paul's 26-year pontificate will always be remembered as exceptionally significant for Europe and Poland.
Tags: benedict xvi, ethical, hierarchy, media, new york times, papacy, theological notebook, vatican

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.