The latest wave of Catholic abuse scandals comes from Germany. The
Catholic southern portions of the country were once home to both Georg
Ratzinger, choir director who has admitted to slapping his singers, and
his brother, the current Pope Benedict XVI. Because of both Ratzingers'
work in dioceses with abuse allegations, this particular scandal
appears to be hitting the Vatican harder
than the last. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, calling the southern
German paper the Süddeutsche Zeitung this scandal's Boston Globe, dubs
this "the current Vatican's death throes."
But great though the furor
may be in Rome, tension is high in Germany as well. Catholics and
non-Catholics alike are finding a moment for intense soul-searching, as
Catholic abuses are not the only ones being discussed at present:
reports have also surfaced
of sexual and physical abuse in a secular, progressive boarding school.
Opinion, therefore is split, as commentators scramble to compare the two cases: is this a problem with the Catholic church
or a problem with society as a whole? Here's a sample of the debate
from the German papers:
- Connecting Corporal Punishment to Sexual Abuse Discussing matters of fear, power, and and misuse of power in both the Catholic case and in the secular schools, The Süddeutsche Zeitung's Lothar Müller
compares sexual abuse to corporal punishment:
"German literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century
is full of accounts that leave no doubt that the history of corporal
punishment in schools and the history of sexual sadism in Germany
overlaps." He thinks, just as corporal punishment was eventually given
up, "we are currently living through the end of tacit tolerance of
sexual abuse in pedagogical institutions"--though sexual abuse is
theoretically taboo, he is troubled by how long it can and has endured
in silence before cases have come to light. "A taboo is strong when it
works to instill fear-based inhibitions for those in power, as well."
- Existential Crisis There are questions about the pope himself having turned a blind eye to abuse while Archbishop of Munich. Says Matthias Drobinski,
also for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "it doesn't matter how the Munich
case develops--it shows how deep and existentially the church has
fallen into crisis." He calls it a "fundamental crisis of trust,"
saying "parents must explain why they still let their children be altar
boys." Yet he has an interesting and nuanced take on the matter:
church is not in a crisis of trust because it is a club of abusers. It
is in crisis because it tends ever more towards self-pity instead of
helping victims, for example with reparation money. It is in crisis
because it will not admit that the priests and brethren attract sexual
identity problems. It is in crisis ... because until now a closeness
and warmth was possible in the church that had disappeared elsewhere in
society. This rare quality could now be lost. The pope has to answer for
that now as well.
- 'The Sexual Revolution Continues' Thomas Schmid
at Die Welt is struck by the fact that the victims stayed silent. He
says that with abuses that took place in the 50s and 60s, this was
perhaps understandable: the victims could have expected their parents
or the police not to believe them, and to have sided with the priests.
But this situation, with the abuses in the past decade, was very
different, he protests. These victims, coming forward, would have been
praised for their "civil courage." He's aghast:
entirely different milieus, two entirely different cultures, and the
same result ... It shows, unfortunately, that the German tradition of
subservience is clearly not yet finished. And: the much-invoked sexual
revolution, that was supposed to have emancipated people, probably has
not taken place at all.
- Making the Pope the Fall Guy At the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Daniel Deckers
recalls the auto-da-fés of the 16th century, thinking the church is
being unfairly scapegoated. "Other institutions meanwhile remain frozen
in fear, counting each day that their name is not on everyone's
tongues." He calls out, in particular, politicians unwilling to do
anything about child pornography. "Where would society be," asks
Deckers, " without the church for a scapegoat?"
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