Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Catholic sex abuse scandal raising doubts for young German Catholics

In Germany, the birthplace of Pope Benedict XVI, the priest sex abuse scandal has shaken many young Catholics' trust in the church, if not their faith. The man who initially inspired a new 'Benedict generation' is now seen as out of touch.

By Staff writer / April 26, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI waves from the popemobile during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 14. The Vatican has gone into full-fledged damage control mode in the priest sex abuse scandal ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's first foreign trip since it erupted.

Pier Paolo Cito/AP


Munich, Germany

The Vatican today accepted an apology from the British Foreign Office for an internal “prank” memo written by a 23-year-old diplomat that satirized Pope Benedict XVI ahead of his UK visit.

Skip to next paragraph

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said he was “appalled” by the leaked spoof memo written by an Oxford graduate that caused a minor media storm by suggesting the pope open abortion clinics and bless a gay marriage while in Britain.

But beyond such juvenalia and other late-night TV humor, the global pedophile priest scandal is causing disaffection among a young generation of Catholics.

With waning trust in church institutions and a turn toward “spirituality” among Catholic youths, many German Catholics under 30 have turned away from the pope. While saying they respect Benedict’s learning, young German Catholics don’t identify with Bavarian-born Benedict or with an institution seen as closed, hierarchical, and absolute.

“Benedict is not communicating openly, and that means the church is not addressing its core problems during this [abuse] crisis,” says Geoff Steigler, a 25-year old graduate student in Munich and a believing Catholic. “But the church will have to adjust, since no young people are in the church anymore.”

Polls reflect this sentiment. A March survey showed that only 24 percent of Germans expressed trust in Pope Benedict, compared with 38 percent in January. Overall trust in the Roman Catholic Church was even lower, at 17 percent in March compared with 29 percent in January, the poll showed. And according to the Forsa Institute's April poll of more than 1,000 German Catholics, 23 percent of all church members are considering leaving.

The greatest disillusionment is felt among youths, the poll found, with more than one-third of Catholics aged 18 to 29 considering leaving the church.

Fading euphoria

Initially, church participation soared when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict in 2005. One press headline read, “We are Pope.” Euphoric rallies of a million youths in Cologne,Germany, and a 2008 youth meeting with Benedict in Australia suggested a pending “Benedict generation.” The pope was expected to capture young imaginations, and young Germans thought Benedict would erase old stigmas associated with Germany's past.