Don't miss




Designers' Apartment showcases tomorrow's fashion talents

Read more


Iraqi FM warns retaking Mosul 'does not mean end of terrorism'

Read more


Champagne, a French success story

Read more


Grandes écoles: France's elite-making machines

Read more


No laughing matter: Roast-style jokes turn into personal attacks at charity dinner

Read more


The thorny issue of nativity scenes

Read more


Frichti, the company that delivers home-cooked meals to your door

Read more


New revelations on role of French army in 1960s war in Cameroon

Read more


South Africa: Students injured in clashes with police

Read more

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.



Latest update : 2010-03-15

Sex abuse scandals

In recent months the Catholic Church has been rocked by scandal. After widespread accusations of child abuse by priests in Ireland, similar claims have begun emerging from other European countries, including Austria and the Netherlands. Now criticism in Germany is intensifying, especially after the revelation that the current Pope's brother Georg Ratzinger knew about mistreatment of children in his choir.

Over the last weeks not a day has passed without fresh allegations against more Catholic schools in Germany. The scandal quickly spread to Hamburg, Bonn and Munich. There are now allegations of abuse in 20 of the 27 dioceses in Germany and the victims number in their hundreds.

Berlin's Canisius college, an elite jesuit school, was where the first allegations of sexual abuse were made public.

One of the men who broke the scandal was Thomas. He was only 13 years old when he was subjected to sexual abuse. It took him 30 years to muster up the courage to talk about it and to accuse two of his former teachers, both of them priests. After Thomas spoke up, hundreds of other victims came forward.

"The real scandal," he says, "which I only discovered later, is how one of the offenders was allowed to continue to abuse again and again for another 30 years in a dozen towns and schools across the world, without anyone stopping him."

The German Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, accused the Vatican of obstructing investigations into the alleged abuse in the schools. She believes the Vatican built up a wall of silence, citing a directive from 2001 which says the most severe abuse cases should be subject to papal secrecy. That missive was written by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the former Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The Justice Minister's comments were an affront to the Catholic Church, according to Stefan Förner, spokesman for the Roman Catholic in Berlin. "It also angered the German Archbishop who fended off the accusations," he says.

"Some of the cases occurred 30 or 40 years ago but I believe that this isn't just about the Catholic Church but it's a problem in society at large. Some things couldn't be spoken about, they were a taboo."

Was the German Catholic Church part of a cover-up, keeping quiet about the years of sexual abuse? That's the opinion of Manuela Groll, a lawyer defending a group of victims in Berlin.

"It's clear from this directive that the Church wants to sort out its own issues and avoid an official investigation," she says. "The Church adheres to its own laws. No consideration has been given to the victims. The Church is shielding the offenders and that speaks volumes."

The German Catholic Church has publically apologised to the victims and agreed to take part in a round table discussion hosted by the government. What Thomas wants is to see the Church compensate the victims and break the rule of silence.




2016-10-20 Germany

German authorities struggle with radical Salafist preachers

Hundreds of young Germans have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group. Many of them were radicalised in Germany by Salafist preachers well known to the authorities. Our team...

Read more

2016-10-19 US Presidential Election 2016

US presidential race: Women voters divided over Trump

US presidential candidate Donald Trump's recent lewd remarks about women have no doubt alienated many female voters. Both he and his rival Hillary Clinton need to get women...

Read more

2016-10-18 China

Chinese authorities clamp down on tiny Jewish community

In China, only five religions are officially recognised by the state and Judaism is not one of them. The eastern city of Kaifeng is home to a tiny Jewish community that dates...

Read more

2016-10-17 France

Video: Parisians wary as first 'shooting gallery' opens

France has opened its first-ever supervised drug injection facility, a safe space for addicts to be able to take their narcotics. The Paris site, based in the north of the city,...

Read more

2016-10-14 humanitarian action

Haiti: Hunger and disease in the wake of Hurricane Matthew

In Haiti, the total number of victims of Hurricane Matthew now stands at over 1,000. Two weeks after the disaster, locals are still facing the consequences. In the absence of...

Read more