Gaps in the files

Gaps in the files

An expert report on the handling of abuse cases in the Aachen diocese incriminates former bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff and his former vicar general Manfred von Holtum. The files of the diocese also seem to have conspicuous gaps.

Mussinghoff (80), von Holtum (76) and the already deceased bishops Johannes Pohlschneider (term of office 1954 to 1974), Klaus Hemmerle (1975 to 1994) and the vicar general Karlheinz Collas (1978 to 1997), the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl attests in its investigation, presented on Thursday via video conference, to have been more interested in protecting the perpetrators than in caring for the victims.

There has been "undeserved leniency" on the part of those responsible toward suspected and convicted clergy, lawyers say. However, Hemmerle, who is considered charismatic, had also visited victims and offered to pay their therapy costs.

Gaps in the files

The files of the diocese showed conspicuous gaps; in one case there could have been a targeted purge.

The diocese had commissioned the expert report in the summer of 2019 in order to clarify cover-ups by former or active decision-makers, for example, as well as to identify structural and systemic errors. The investigation period refers to the years 1965 to 2019.

Abuses committed by 81 priests

According to the chancery, there were assaults by 81 priests, including two deacons. Of the clergy, 24 were still alive. The number of victims is 175, including 124 males and 45 females. The gender of 6 victims had not been able to be verified.

The report describes 14 case studies, including that of a clergyman who was convicted of abuse and laicized a few years ago. He had already attracted attention in the early 2000s because of visits to the sauna with altar boys. According to his own statements, however, the clergyman has not suffered any sanctions from the diocese headed by Mussinghoff and von Holtum. Mussinghoff presided over the diocese from 1995 to 2015; von Holtum was chief administrator there from 1997 to 2015.

Systemic deficits

Wastl stressed that it was not a matter of "pillorying" the clerics. Von Holtum had acknowledged that no one had approached the victims until the abuse scandal in the German church was uncovered in 2010. Now he should admit that also from today's point of view the behavior at that time was inappropriate.

The experts pointed to systemic deficits. The Catholic understanding of the priest as a special mediator to God had led to protecting the perpetrators rather than the victims. In addition, officials showed an "oppressive speechlessness" on ies of sexuality and a lack of expertise in personnel management.

In a statement by Mussinghoff's lawyer, it is said that he had already made clear after taking office how serious he was about clarifying the abuse problem. Regarding the "sweeping accusations" that he did not care about the victims, the lawyer refers to the possibility that those affected could have contacted the abuse commissioner.

Bishop This wants to comment only later

The acting Bishop of Aachen, Helmut Dieser, and his Vicar General, Andreas Frick, attended the video presentation as guests. According to the diocese, in order to preserve the independence of the experts, they were not informed beforehand about the contents of the investigation. They do not want to comment until later.

The Archdiocese of Cologne had commissioned a similar report from WSW, but finally canceled its publication at the end of October because of alleged methodological flaws, and had chosen another
Legal experts commissioned to investigate. In the run-up to the publication, Mussinghoff and von Holtum had also pointed out that the report should not be made public due to privacy concerns.

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Christina Cherry
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