4 German Reactions to Catholic Abuse Scandal

Locals debate: is the flaw in Catholicism, or in German society?

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The latest wave of Catholic abuse scandals comes from Germany. The Catholic southern portions of the country were once home to both Georg Ratzinger, choir director who has admitted to slapping his singers, and his brother, the current Pope Benedict XVI. Because of both Ratzingers' work in dioceses with abuse allegations, this particular scandal appears to be hitting the Vatican harder than the last. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, calling the southern German paper the Süddeutsche Zeitung this scandal's Boston Globe, dubs this "the current Vatican's death throes."

But great though the furor may be in Rome, tension is high in Germany as well. Catholics and non-Catholics alike are finding a moment for intense soul-searching, as Catholic abuses are not the only ones being discussed at present: reports have also surfaced of sexual and physical abuse in a secular, progressive boarding school. Opinion, therefore is split, as commentators scramble to compare the two cases: is this a problem with the Catholic church or a problem with society as a whole? Here's a sample of the debate from the German papers:
  • Connecting Corporal Punishment to Sexual Abuse  Discussing matters of fear, power, and and misuse of power in both the Catholic case and in the secular schools, The Süddeutsche Zeitung's Lothar Müller compares sexual abuse to corporal punishment: "German literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is full of accounts that leave no doubt that the history of corporal punishment in schools and the history of sexual sadism in Germany overlaps." He thinks, just as corporal punishment was eventually given up, "we are currently living through the end of tacit tolerance of sexual abuse in pedagogical institutions"--though sexual abuse is theoretically taboo, he is troubled by how long it can and has endured in silence before cases have come to light. "A taboo is strong when it works to instill fear-based inhibitions for those in power, as well."
  • Existential Crisis  There are questions about the pope himself having turned a blind eye to abuse while Archbishop of Munich. Says Matthias Drobinski, also for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "it doesn't matter how the Munich case develops--it shows how deep and existentially the church has fallen into crisis." He calls it a "fundamental crisis of trust," saying "parents must explain why they still let their children be altar boys." Yet he has an interesting and nuanced take on the matter:
The church is not in a crisis of trust because it is a club of abusers. It is in crisis because it tends ever more towards self-pity instead of helping victims, for example with reparation money. It is in crisis because it will not admit that the priests and brethren attract sexual identity problems. It is in crisis ... because until now a closeness and warmth was possible in the church that had disappeared elsewhere in society. This rare quality could now be lost. The pope has to answer for that now as well.
  • 'The Sexual Revolution Continues'  Thomas Schmid at Die Welt is struck by the fact that the victims stayed silent. He says that with abuses that took place in the 50s and 60s, this was perhaps understandable: the victims could have expected their parents or the police not to believe them, and to have sided with the priests. But this situation, with the abuses in the past decade, was very different, he protests. These victims, coming forward, would have been praised for their "civil courage." He's aghast:
Two entirely different milieus, two entirely different cultures, and the same result ... It shows, unfortunately, that the German tradition of subservience is clearly not yet finished. And: the much-invoked sexual revolution, that was supposed to have emancipated people, probably has not taken place at all.
  • Making the Pope the Fall Guy  At the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Daniel Deckers recalls the auto-da-fés of the 16th century, thinking the church is being unfairly scapegoated. "Other institutions meanwhile remain frozen in fear, counting each day that their name is not on everyone's tongues." He calls out, in particular, politicians unwilling to do anything about child pornography. "Where would society be," asks Deckers, " without the church for a scapegoat?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.