A highly anticipated report on clerical sex abuse and coverups in Germany’s powerful diocese of Cologne released Thursday identifies 202 perpetrators against 314 victims—55 percent of whom were under the age of 14. The report blames “years of chaos, subjectively perceived lack of competence, and misunderstandings” for the rampant abuse.
The 800-page report also points to a sharp rise in abuse between 2004 and 2018, said Björn Gercke, the lawyer who presented the report on Thursday. German Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and resigned in 2013.
Before that, Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which deals firsthand with abuse reports from outlying dioceses. There, he was criticized for downplaying the 2002 Boston Church scandal that led to the Boston Globe investigations central to the film Spotlight. Prior to that, he was the archbishop of Munich, where he signed off on therapy rather than punishment for a proven predatory priest. As pope, he took a harder line, defrocking scores of priests who had been proven abusers, but he remained silent when the choir directed by his brother, who is also a priest, turned out to be a sadistic sex camp for kids.
In 2019, six years after he retired, Ratzinger penned an editorial in which he blamed sexual freedom and the collapse of moral standards—not a church that did not properly protect children—for the problem, writing “in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely.”
The Cologne report parses the results of a 2018 study by the German Bishops Conference that identified 1,670 clergymen committing sexual violence against 3,677 minors, of whom most were young boys between the years 1946 and 2014, according to German state media Deutsche Welle.
The report accused a number of top church officials, including the Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Hesse and the late Archbishop of Cologne Joachim Meisner, of breach of duty, but gives a pass to the current archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki, who commissioned the report but who was widely criticized for censoring the release of a preliminary report last year. Speaking ahead of the report release, Georg Baetzing, the president of Germany’s Bishops Conference, called Woelki’s suppression of the first report a “disaster” and said Woelki had “completely failed as a moral authority.” The investigation however did not find he breached his duties.
The German church currently pays victims of clerical sex abuse around €5,000 “in recognition of their suffering” as well as therapy bills.
The report released Thursday is a second report and was published by an independent law firm against Woelki’s recommendation. Following the report, Woelki said the clergy named in the report would be dismissed. “What we have seen shows clearly there was a coverup,” he said. “I am ashamed.”