German Sex Abuse Scandal Includes The Pope

A growing scandal in Europe over child sexual abuse by priests now extends to the Vatican and Pope Benedict. Friday, the Pope's former archdiocese in Germany acknowledged that while he was archbishop, a priest who was suspected of abusing children was transferred to another job — where he committed more abuses. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks to Peter Wensierski of Der Spiegel about the sex abuse scandal.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Jacki Lyden.

A growing scandal in Europe over child sexual abuse by priests now extends to the Vatican and to Pope Benedict XVI. Yesterday, the Pope's former archdiocese in Germany acknowledged that while he was archbishop, a priest who was suspected of abusing children was transferred to another job where he committed more abuses.

The German archdiocese says the decision to transfer the priest was made by a subordinate. But the case raises questions about the pope's handling of abuse claims when he was archbishop and later when he led the Vatican's investigations into such abuse.

Peter Wensierski is a reporter for the German news magazine Der Spiegel. He's covering this story and he joins us on the line from Berlin.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. PETER WENSIERSKI (Der Spiegel): Hello.

LYDEN: Peter, this case dates to 1980, when Pope Benedict was the archbishop of Munich. What was his role in the case?

Mr. WENSIERSKI: Well, in 1980 he has agreed on the secret transfer of a priest, worked in the church, who shortly before has abused an 11-year-old boy. And this priest worked again with children, and some years later he had a relapse and abused children again.

LYDEN: Hmm.

Mr. WENSIERSKI: When he had relapsed on '85, '86, he was condemned to prison. But after this, the diocese of Munich let him work again with children, until today.

LYDEN: Now, yesterday, a subordinate took responsibility for this decision to reassign the priest. Do we know if the archbishop then, as you said, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was aware of the decision?

Mr. WENSIERSKI: He was responsible for the decision to take this priest and let him work in Munich. He says he didnt know it. The bishop of Munich said yesterday: I had the full responsibility and not Mr. Ratzinger. But it's unbelievable, because the chief has been Ratzinger at this time and there's a document that shows he was involved in this transfer.

LYDEN: How does this case fit into the larger scandal over sex abuse by clergy in the German Catholic Church?

Mr. WENSIERSKI: Well, this is a most shocking news at the moment, but it started two months ago, three - five victims of a Catholic boarding school come out and say we are victims of sexual abuse. And yesterday I count the actual situation, more than 600 victims have come out in all over Germany in Catholic schools of dioceses and they come out with their stories of sexual abuse. The situation is like it was in the U.S.A., like it was in Ireland. That is the dimension of the scandal now.

LYDEN: And there've been some allegations of abuse at a boy's choir once led by the pope's brother, I understand, Monsieur Ratzinger.

Mr. WENSIERSKI: Even the brother of the pope, he admitted to slap the children's faces.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WENSIERSKI: He has a violent temper and he has been for more than 30 years there the head of the choir, and there has been sexual abuse of this choir, and Georg Ratzinger, he admitted that some pupils have spoken over these things but he doesnt take care of them. So the brother of the pope and the pope himself now are in the middle of the scandal.

LYDEN: Peter Wensierski is a reporter for Der Spiegel magazine. He joined us on the line from Berlin.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. WENSIERSKI: Thank you too.

LYDEN: Now an update on this story. The Vatican today defended Pope Benedict and denounced what it described as attempts to personally involve the pope in the church abuse scandal in his homeland. The Vatican issued a statement that read in part: It is evident that over recent days some people have sought with considerable persistence elements that could personally involve the holy father in questions of abuse. To any objective observer it is clear that these efforts have failed.

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