ROME — Earlier this week, an independent investigation commissioned by the Diocese of Regensburg in Germany found that at least 547 former members of the Regensburg Domspatzen boys’ choir were subjected to some form of abuse over a fifty-year period, including 67 who were victims of sexual violence.
The 440-page report, which spanned the years between 1945 and early 1990s, found plausible accusations against 49 members of the Church for physical abuse, including nine for cases of sexual molestation.
The report collects cases of corporal violence, from slaps to physical punishment, and sexual abuse, ranging from inappropriate caresses to rape. It was released on Tuesday by the diocese on its website, and presented in a press conference by Ulrich Weber, the lawyer leading the investigation of claims of abuse at the choir and two associated boarding schools.
Most of those named by the victims have already died. The crimes, however, fall outside Germany’s statute of limitations, meaning they are no longer open to prosecution.
Presenting the report, Weber said that former students of the Domspatzen choir reported that the physical, emotional and even sexual abuse made life there like “a prison, hell and a concentration camp.”
Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, the elder brother of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, has been at the center of many news reports, as he was the director of the choir for 30 years.
In a 2010 interview with the German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse he apologized to victims but denied having knowledge of the abuses.
“There was never any talk of sexual abuse problems, and I had no idea that molestation was taking place,” he said.
In the report revealed Thursday, Weber said Ratzinger should have known about at least some cases of physical violence, but that his role “was still not at all clear.”
Weber was more critical of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, until recently the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. From 2002 to 2012, when Benedict called him to Rome, Müller served as bishop of Regensburg.
According to the lawyer, Müller had “a clear responsibility” in the “strategic, organizational and communication weaknesses” that marked the process he launched of reviewing allegations.
Müller had ordered the creation of a commission to investigate and search through diocesan archives in the wake of the crisis, which began in 2010 when reports and allegations started to surface.
Speaking to the Italian news channel TV2000, operated by the Italian bishop’s conference, Müller refuted the accusations that he hadn’t done enough, underlining that it had been him who first called for the investigation, and argued that before 2010, there was no knowledge of the abuses.
The cardinal said that in addition to the Weber report, it’s “important” to read the history of the events that took place when the investigation was opened, available on the diocesan website: “It is clear that from that date, everything that could be done was done, on the basis of the known facts,” he said.
Müller also emphasized that many considerable financial resources were deployed to “bring justice to victims, despite the long time transpired.”
Unfortunately, he added, “we can’t initiate processes against the dead,” referring to the fact that most of the abusers have passed away, “but everything that could be done, both legally and pastorally, I think, the diocese did, and does today.”
He also challenged other institutions, including public ones, to conduct a similar investigation, because “the truth will give us peace.” According to Müller there are 16,000 charges of pedophilia in Germany alone each year.
Müller also pointed out that the abuses documented in the choir, “which seem to be a single occurrence” because they were presented in one report, took place over a period of 70 years.
According to an interview he gave to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Weber in the past thanked Müller for what was done between 2010-2012.
“Seven years later, it’s too easy to judge [what was done] in the beginning, when we still knew little,” Müller said.
The German prelate had been appointed by Benedict to the CDF, which among other issues deals with priests who’ve been accused of sexually abusing minors. Abuse survivor Marie Collins, who earlier this year resigned her position in the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that “resistance” from Müller’s now former-congregation was one of the reasons behind her resignation.
“In these years I’ve been ashamed, for what’s happened in the Church,” Müller told Corriere. “I have always believed that mercy in the Church is not possible without true justice.”
Pope Francis recently replaced Müller as head of the doctrinal congregation with his former deputy, Asked about the many rumors and stories that surround the decision, Müller said, “I wasn’t given an explanation. But it couldn’t have been lack of orthodoxy nor theological capabilities. Even in the fight against abuse of minors, I’ve always followed the zero tolerance line.”
Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of Francis’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Vatican Radio that the report is a “courageous step forward” and that it shows that Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg “has taken seriously all the allegations, that he did not shy away from all that would ensue.”