Saturday, March 27, 2010

Abuse Scandal Shakes Faith in Pope's Birthplace

If there is one place you would expect Pope Benedict to receive strong support, it is Traunstein.

He grew up in this picture-postcard town in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. The Holy Father is Traunstein's most famous son. In the town center, groups of tourists have their photographs taken next to Benedict's bust.

There is even a "Benedict Trail" which passes by some of the landmarks associated with Joseph Ratzinger.

At St Michael's seminary, 30 students attend morning prayers. As the sun flashes through the window, the smell of incense mixes with the sounds of hymns. Joseph Ratzinger studied here as a boy, it was his gateway to the Catholic Church.

"We are very proud that one of the former pupils went on to become Pope," seminary director Markus Moderegger tells us.

"We were proud to have a German pope

but that pride has gone"

- Traunstein resident


The election of a German Pope was a source of pride, not only for German Catholics but for the whole country. It seemed to boost Germany's standing on the world stage. But attitudes have changed.

The child sex abuse scandal battering the Catholic Church has led to accusations that Pope Benedict covered up cases of abuse. Even in Traunstein, there is growing disappointment with the Pope. We chat ed with people on the main square.

"We were proud to have a German Pope," one woman tells us, "but that pride has gone."

"The abuse scandal comes as a shock," says another. "Now people are leaving the Church."

So far, more than 300 cases of physical and sexual abuse by priests have been reported in Germany, stretching back to the 1950s and involving Catholic boarding schools, monasteries and the famous boys' choir in Regensburg. Composer Franz Wittenbrink was a member of the Regensburg choir between 1958 and 1967. We met up in Munich and Franz told us about the abuse he suffered.

'Under the Carpet'

He told us how trainee priests - prefects at the boarding school - had a system of "semi-sexual punishment".

"They wrote in a book how many beatings the boys should get. If we reached 20, we had to go to them. We had to take our trousers down and we were beaten with a stick. There were three prefects who used their hands to slap naked bottoms. We had to go to their private apartments for 20 beatings."

Other choirboys were sexually abused by the director of the boarding school.

"He picked boys out and they had to go to his apartment. He gave them red wine and talked about life. And then the boys had to masturbate him."

"No one from my class told their parents what was happening," says Franz. "I would never tell my parents. I thought they would say that if we were beaten then we deserved it. "

We asked Franz whether it was possible that, as archbishop of Munich in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joseph Ratzinger was unaware of the scale of abuse in the church.

"I think Joseph Ratzinger had to know it," believes Franz. "I cannot imagine he didn't know. I think at this time the Church tried to sweep it under the carpet. They didn't want anyone to speak badly about the Church."


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