German Catholic Church apologizes for ‘pain’ of abuse victims

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of German Bishops's Conference attends a press conference to present the findings of a study into the report of sexual abuse by Catholic priests of thousands of children over a 70-year period in Fulda, Germany, September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Riham Alkousaa and Maria Sheahan

BERLIN (Reuters) – The head of the Catholic Church in Germany apologized on Tuesday “for all the failure and pain”, after a report found thousands of children had been sexually abused by its clergy and said the “guilty must be punished”.

Researchers from three German universities examined 38,156 personnel files spanning a 70-year period ending in 2014, and found indications of sexual abuse by 1,670 clerics, with more than 3,700 possible victims.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported the findings earlier this month after the report was leaked. The scandal comes as the church is grappling with new abuse cases in countries including Chile, the United States, and Argentina.

“Those who are guilty must be punished,” Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said at a news conference to launch the report in the city of Fulda.

“For too long in the church, we have looked away, denied, covered up and didn’t want it to be true,” he added.

“All this must not remain without consequences. Those affected are entitled to justice,” Marx said, without specifying what consequences perpetrators might face.

“For all the failure, pain and suffering, I must apologize as the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference as well as personally,” he said.

“The study .. makes it clear to us that the Catholic Church has by no means overcome the issue of dealing with the sexual abuse of minors.”

Sexual abuse by Catholic clerics has not ended, Harald Dressing of the Central Institute of Mental Health, one of the report’s authors, told the news conference.

He said many cases were likely to have never been reported or not taken seriously enough to be noted in the files.

“The resulting numbers (in the report) are the tip of an iceberg whose actual size we cannot assess,” he added.

Around 51 percent of victims were aged 13 or younger when first abused, and most abusers committed their first offense when aged between 30 and 50, the study found.

It said 62 percent of those affected by sexual abuse were male.

“Neither homosexuality nor celibacy are the sole causes of sexual abuse of minors,” Dressing said.

“But complex interaction of sexual immaturity and the denial of homosexual inclinations in ambivalent, sometimes openly homophobic surroundings, can provide further explanation for the predominance of male victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics.”

Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley said in a statement the church had to report every case so the rule of law could apply.

“The massive abuse of trust, dependencies, and power from within the church is intolerable,” she said.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Maria Sheahan; editing by Thomas Seythal and Andrew Roche)

Democracies facing crisis of faith: survey

A man leaves a booth during Hungarian parliamentary election at a polling station in Budapest, Hungary, April 8, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The world’s democracies are facing a severe crisis of public faith, according to the conclusions of a large study published on Thursday.

The report by German polling firm Dalia Research, titled Democracy Perception Index 2018, found that trust in governments appears even lower among people in democracies than in states deemed by the firm to be undemocratic.

“Right now the biggest risk for democracies is that the public no longer sees them as democratic,” said Nico Jaspers, CEO of Dalia Research.

When asked “do you feel that your government is acting in your interest?” 64 percent of respondents living in democracies said “rarely” or “never”.

In non-democracies 41 percent said the same, according to the study, based on 125,000 respondents in 50 countries.

Kenya, Austria, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark were the countries where the largest proportions of people said the government was not acting in their interest.

Kenya is categorized as “partly free” and the other four countries “free” in a ranking by the U.S. organization Freedom House, which Dalia uses.

People in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and China, all countries categorized “not free” by Freedom House, most rarely gave that response.

When asked “Do you feel that the voice of people like you matters in politics?” 54 percent of citizens in democracies said their voices “rarely” or “never” mattered, compared with 46 percent in non-democracies.

Of the 10 countries that had the highest percentages of people saying their voices were rarely or never heard, nine are democracies, Dalia said.

“While citizens in democratic societies might be inherently more critical of their government than those living in non-democratic societies, perception is often as important as reality, and therefore the implications of the findings remain relevant and insightful,” it said in a news release.

The publication of the survey results came on the eve of the opening of the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, to be attended by figures including former U.S. vice president Joe Biden and former British prime minister Tony Blair.

The summit and survey are both organized by the non-profit Alliance of Democracies Foundation, founded by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last year.

(Reporting by Teis Jensen; editing by Andrew Roche)