A former chairman of the lay diocesan council in Regensburg, Germany, has alleged that Vatican Cardinal Gerhard Müller "systematically" prevented the investigation of abuse in Germany's famous "Regensburger Domspatzen" boys' choir during his time as bishop of Regensburg.
The allegations against Müller, who is now the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, coincided with 60 further alleged abuse victims coming forward since Ulrich Weber, an independent lawyer, published an interim report in January which showed that three times as many boys had been abused between 1953 and 1992 than reported by the diocese.
"My impartiality as an independent lawyer is the reason why more alleged victims now want to consult me. They feel that I will listen to them," Weber, who was commissioned by the Regensburg diocese to further investigate the abuse at the choir boys school, told domradio.de.
In a long interview in the German weekly Die Zeit, former chairman Fritz Wallner described how Müller, who was bishop of Regensburg from 2002-2012, and his vicar-general, Fr. Michael Fuchs, "systematically" prevented abuse cases from being investigated and calls for Fuchs, who is still vicar-general of Regensburg, to step down.
In 2005, Müller disbanded the lay diocesan council, Wallner said, "as he wanted to hold the reins firmly in his own hands and that proved fatal for inner-church investigation of abuse."
Two years later, Wallner said that Müller installed a priest in a parish who had been sentenced for sexually abusing minors in a previous parish. When the priest was again arrested for abusing children in his new parish, Wallner said Müller defended his decision to re-install the priest by pointing out that he had been assured by the man's psychiatrist that he was "healed."
Asked at the time whether he felt responsible for re-installing the priest now that he had again sexually abused children, Müller said that the priest had denied the abuse 12 times to Müller's face, and therefore the priest, had a "disturbed view of the truth."
According to Wallner, Müller ignored the 2002 German bishops' conference's guidelines, which recommended that priests sentenced for sexual abuse of minors should never again be allowed to work with children or young people. Müller's view was that each diocese had to shoulder the responsibility for such cases itself.
As late as 2012, two years after the clerical sexual abuse "tsunami" swept through Germany, Austria and Switzerland and brought hundreds of sexual abuse cases by priests to light, Müller obstinately maintained that neither the bishop nor the church were responsible for abusers. The responsibility always lay solely with the perpetrator.
"If a schoolteacher abuses a child, it is not the school nor the Ministry of Education that are to blame," he told news agency dpa in February 2012, four months before he became prefect of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.
When the first accusations of abuse at the Domspatzen choir were revealed in 2010, the trustees urged further investigation, Wallner said, but the diocesan authorities "put the brakes on."
"Many more victims would have been listened to then but Müller's 'Regensburg System' prevented the truth from coming to light," Wallner pointed out.
In his opinion, the documentary entitled "Sins Committed Against Choir Boys" shown on Bavarian TV in January 2015 was the reason why the Regensburg diocesan authorities decided to call in an independent lawyer to further investigate abuse at the choir school.
"That is when the Regensburg diocese woke up," Wallner said.
At a service at Regensburg Cathedral on Jan. 24, Regensburg bishop Rudolf Voderholzer appealed to victims who were hesitant to come forward to contact Weber. Although the abuse at the choir school took place several decades ago, "the wounds are deeply ingrained and keep breaking open," he said. It had now come to light that the offenses had not only been more numerous, "but also far more serious."
Attempts – which Voderholzer rejected -- have been made to relativize the corporal punishment the victims had to endure by saying that corporal punishment was usual at that time.
"The fact that so-called black or poisonous pedagogy was customary at the time, that is sometimes used to justify the abuse, in no way justifies the excessive corporal punishment and certainly not the sexual abuse which has now come to light," Voderholzer emphasized. It was essential to avoid all attempts to justify the abuse "in this sensitive and problematic case."
Inheriting the Domspatzen abuse problem from his predecessors when he became bishop in 2012, he apologized for diocesan authorities, who have not investigated the abuse "efficiently enough" since then. Voderholzer said could not undo the "agonies" the victims must have suffered. "All I can do is offer my deepest apologies to each single victim," he said.
The diocese is now setting up a special board, on which victims will also be represented, to discuss further ways of "consistent and thorough investigation of abuse cases." The main aim of the board is to obtain recognition of the abuse and in some small way, try to make amends.
"Perhaps we can make just a small contribution towards healing victims' wounds," Voderholzer said. "No sum of money could ever compensate for what had happened," but the board is merely a "sign of our remorse and shame."
Meanwhile, the president of the Centre for Child Protection at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, Fr. Hans Zollner, told the German newspaper Publik Forum on Jan. 20 that the "most typical danger" as far as clerical sex abuse in the Catholic church is concerned, is the attitude that clerical sexual abuse is best solved by the church itself.
"The root of many really serious problems is when the church says, 'We will solve this problem internally as only we can really understand it,' " Zollner said.
[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is the Austrian correspondent for the London-based weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet.]