A special social space

A special social space

Dark clouds over a church © Friso Gentsch

New aspect in the processing of abuse cases: According to church historian Hubertus Lutterbach, the Catholic "ideal of cultic purity" opened up a control-free space for clergy abuse of children.

"According to common belief, priests and children embodied this ideal most strongly through their sexual virginity, which ultimately also led to the fact that the behavior of clerics towards children has not been controlled until the present day," Lutterbach explained in a guest lecture at the Catholic Theological Faculty in Erfurt on Tuesday evening.

In terms of research history, he said, there have been very few studies on the behavior of clerics toward children. "Until recently, it was considered completely undisputed that it had been exclusively positive," said the Catholic theology professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen. "It is all the more tragic that sexual abuse of children comes from the very group that has worked for centuries to educate and protect children," Lutterbach said.

Special social room opened

From the fourth century on, the ideal of cultic purity became massively established and encompassed all areas of everyday life," the church historian explained. This had ranged from dietary rules to petty sexual offenses, which were already considered cultic defilement. From this, a "performance-oriented renunciation spirituality" had developed among clerics: "The higher the renunciation, the higher the degree of cultic purity."Clerics should be poor, obedient and sexually untouched like a child, according to the report.

"In retrospect, one will be allowed to take stock of the fact that this ideal of cultic purity opened up a special social space that was exclusively reserved for clergy and children, and which could be powerfully and hermetically sealed off from external control," Lutterbach said. "All the others felt inferior to this ideal of cultic purity." This has apparently caused great inhibitions to critically question this special space.

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Christina Cherry
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