From abuse crisis, Germany's Roman Catholics seek reform
The Roman Catholic priest sex abuse crisis is prompting Germany's faithful to revisit the spiritual roots of their church.
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A comment by Andreas Batloff, a Jesuit priest and editor, on the priesthood in Germany after the abuse crisis, was typical: "The image of the priest as an untouchable holy man has been destroyed. That's a blessing … if we move away from a two-tiered system. The idea that somehow priests are different and better than other people is an idea that is on the way out."Skip to next paragraph
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Such views are consistent with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on "the priesthood of all believers." Washington University's Frank Flinn, a Catholic theologian, says the core issue for Catholics is ending "a two-track Christianity in which some Christians in the church are holier than others. That's not what we find in the early church."
In Bavaria, a stronghold of pietistic Catholicism, with both progressive and conservative churches, the story hit like a bomb in January. Previously, many Germans thought "the bad boys were only found in the US," says Father Batloff. "Now it is on German TV in our living rooms." The cases overwhelmed the church's attempt to make it a media-hates-Catholics story. As case after case came to light, causing infighting and a continuing atmosphere of fear and recrimination, many Catholics sat in sackcloth and ashes.
All in the name of God?
In January, the rector of an elite Jesuit boys school in Berlin revealed a history of abuse. That set off a "domino effect," according to Christian Weisner of the international movement We are Church in Munich. Two weeks ago came evidence of horrific abuse in a Bavarian monastery. Then there was the case of priest Peter Hullermann, diagnosed as a pedophile but shuttled around Munich under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. On April 21, Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, who at first denied slapping boys and using orphanage funds for his personal art collection, offered his resignation to the pope.
As the crisis thickened in winter, the top Protestant figure in Germany, Bishop Margot Kassman, was arrested on a drunken driving charge. Days later, she resigned to protect the dignity of her office. Catholic circles buzzed about why their leaders were not taking similar measures.
"In the Catholic church in Munich, we are still waiting for a signal like this," says Bernhard Beutler, a publisher trained in the Jesuit order. "The hypocrisy of the institutional church is what we talk about … our leaders are there in the name of God! They aren't officials of Deutsche Bank."
- Catholic sex abuse scandal raising doubts for young German Catholics
- Germany faces up to sexual abuse after scandals at Catholic, other schools
- Will German Catholic church abuse case reach Pope Benedict?
With allegations against German priests, more Catholics are recognizing the crisis as a global, not a national, problem. Reformers committed to the church may ultimately change a culture that places priests above parishioners.