Cardinal Müller accused of “systemic” abuse cover-up in former diocese
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the Vatican’s Synod Hall, Nov. 17, 2014. (Photo: Bohumil Petrik/CNA)
A former official in the Diocese of Regensburg (Germany) has accused Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), of systematically covering up sexual abuse cases during his decade as bishop of the Bavarian diocese.
Fritz Wallner, who once worked as chairman of Regensburg’s lay diocesan council, claims that the then-Bishop Müller and his vicar-general, Mgr Michael Fuchs, introduced what Mr Wallner called, “The Regensburg System”, which prevented such abuse cases from coming to light.
He made the claims in a long interview in the 14 January issue of the prestigious German weekly Die Zeit.
The interview came as former members of the Regensburger Domspatzen and other witnesses continued to reveal more stories of physical and sexual abuse by priests inside Germany’s most famous boys’ choir. Their allegations have officials asking why clerical abuse was hushed up for so much longer in Regensburg than in most other German dioceses.
Cardinal Müller was Regensburg’s bishop from late 2002 until the summer of 2012 when Benedict XVI called him to Rome to head the Vatican’s doctrinal office (CDF).
In the Die Zeit interview Mr Wallner attempted to describe how the so-called “Regensburg System” came about under Müller and the consequences it caused. Among other things, he said Mgr Fuchs, who is still vicar-general of the diocese, should step down
The former official said it was in 2005 when then-Bishop Müller suddenly disbanded the lay diocesan council of which he had been a member for 22 years. Wallner recalled that other German bishops sharply criticized the move at the time, but the Congregation for the Clergy had supported it.
“Müller wanted to hold the reins firmly in his own hands and that proved fatal for inner-church investigation of abuse,” Wallner said.
Two years later an abuse case in the Regensburg diocese hit the headlines in and outside Germany.
Catholics in the parish of Riekofen were deeply disturbed when they discovered that the priest who had been in charge of their children for the last three years had been arrested for sexually abusing minors in twenty-two cases. Moreover, he previously had been sentenced for sexually abusing minors in a neighboring parish, but the diocesan authorities had not revealed this fact to his new parish – not even to the parish priest.
Then-Bishop Müller defended his decision to re-install the priest saying the cleric’s psychiatrist had assured him that the man was “healed”.
Müller’s decision was in violation of the 2002 guidelines published by the German bishops’ conference, which warned that priests sentenced for sexual abuse of minors should never again be allowed to work with children or young people. However, Müller’s view was that each diocese had to shoulder the responsibility for such cases on its own.
When asked at the time whether he felt responsible for re-installing the priest now that he had once again abused minors, Müller said the priest had denied the abuse twelve times to his (the bishop’s) face, which meant he (the priest) had a “disturbed view of the truth”.
As late as 2012, two years after the clerical sexual abuse “tsunami” swept through the German-speaking countries and brought hundreds of clerical abuse cases to light, Müller doggedly maintained that neither the bishop concerned nor the Church were responsible for abusers. He said responsibility lay solely with the perpetrator.
“If a school teacher abuses a child, it is not the school or the Ministry of Education that are to blame”, he told the German press agency Dpa on 8 February 2012. That was just four months before he became CDF prefect.
When the first accusations of abuse at the Domspatzen choir were revealed in 2010, the trustees had urged further investigation, Wallner recalled, but the diocesan authorities had “put the brakes on”.
“Many more victims would have been listened to then, but unfortunately the ‘Regensburg System’ prevented the truth from being unveiled,” he maintained.
Catholics in Regensburg were deeply concerned that the independent lawyer the diocese called in eight months ago for further investigations had discovered that over 231 boys had been abused. Mr Wallner said it is estimated that the number of unrecorded cases is probably far higher.
In his opinion the documentary entitled, “Sins Committed Against Choir Boys”, shown on Bavarian TV in January 2015, was the reason why the diocese hired the independent lawyer.
“That is when the Regensburg diocese woke up,” Wallner explained.
As is well-known Mgr Georg Ratzinger, the 92-year-old brother of Benedict XVI, was choirmaster of the Domspatzen from 1964-1994. But he has denied all knowledge of the abuse.
Mr Wallner was asked if he believed that was possible.
“No!” he replied with emphasis.
“I share the opinion of Ulrich Weber, the independent lawyer called in by the diocese for further investigations. He, too, was asked the same question and his reply was, ‘In my assumption Georg knew’,” the former lay official said.
Meanwhile, Udo Kaiser, who was abused at the choir school for years from the age of eight onwards, has recalled that many of the teachers at the school had been members of the various Nazi party groups (NSDAP, SS and SA) during the Second World War. This meant they were barred from teaching at state schools.
“Nothing has ever been done to clear up these Nazi connections,” Kaiser told the Berlin daily Tageszeitung on 19 January.
“I can tell you the names of fifteen teachers who had Nazi pasts. They would never have been allowed to teach at a normal school,” he said.
When asked if the Domspatzen Choir still had a future after these abuse revelations, Kaiser replied, “The whole model is hanging by a hair. There are far too few applications. The Domspatzen may well be disbanded. That’s what happened to the Odenwald School.”