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German Report Reveals More Than 3,000 Catholic Sex Abuse Cases, Over 1,000 Suspected Predator Priests

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
  • A report revealed more than 1,000 German priests allegedly abused over 3,600 individuals over a period of 68 years.
  • The report highlights the fact that sexual abusers may well still operate within the church’s ranks, and the fact that the Catholic church’s sexual abuse problem is a global issue.
  • Victims advocates criticized the report for a lack of transparency, claiming the real numbers are likely much higher.

German researchers released a report Tuesday revealing that 1,670 Catholic clergy members allegedly sexually abused more than 3,600 individuals over a period of 68 years.

The report, commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference, detailed cases of sexual abuse within the German Catholic church from 1946 through 2014. Disturbing as the revelation is of the abuse scandal’s scale in Germany, bishops also noted the report indicates there may well still be sexual abusers within the ranks of the German clergy. (RELATED: Pope Admits Church Has Not Addressed Abuse Scandals ‘With Clear Condemnation’)

“We are experiencing a very dark hour in our church’s history, which will hopefully result in a cleansing and renewal. The dangers are far from being exorcised. We must fear that there is and could still be sexual abuse among us,” Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen wrote in a letter to Catholic faithful.

The report revealed that most of the victims were boys aged 13 years and younger, at least 969 of whom were altar boys, and that on average victims were allegedly abused repeatedly over 15 months. Approximately one out of every six instances of abuse was reportedly a rape case.

The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, expressed shame on behalf of the church in Germany for its willful negligence in addressing sexual abuse allegations.

“Sexual abuse is a crime. I’m ashamed for so many (of us) looking away, not wanting to recognize what happened and not helping the victims. That goes for me as well,” Marx told reporters, according to Crux Now.

Critics of the report said, however, that it was not as thorough as state-commissioned reports like Pennsylvania’s grand jury report on sexual abuse, especially in light of the fact that German researchers were not permitted access to church records, nor did they detail the cases of individual victims. Researchers relied instead on questionnaires, anonymous online surveys of victims willing to participate, correspondence with dioceses, interviews and police reports.

Victims advocates intimated that, as a result of the way researchers created the report, the real number of sexual abuse victims and reported predatory priests was likely much higher.

“It is dramatic, the difference between what a thorough state-run investigation will find versus what the church will do when it’s self-reporting,” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the site ­BishopAccountability.org, told The Washington Post. “Whatever the church reports is a fraction of the actual number — a small fraction.”

A 2004 report, for instance, based on documentation that the U.S. Catholic church voluntarily provided found only 10,667 allegations of clergy sexual abuse had been filed between 1950 and 2002, while the later grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealed over 1,000 victims in just six dioceses over a span of 70 years.

Victims advocates also asserted that Germany’s report highlighted the fact that the sexual abuse problem in the Catholic church is not particular to certain countries, but is a global issue.

“The impact on the public in Germany right now is quite big,” said Matthias Katsch, chairman of a German victims’ group. “What has influence is the ongoing worldwide crisis. People realize this isn’t a local problem — it is a global problem of the Catholic Church.”

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