Email Us My Blog

Jesuit Scandal Shakes German Church
The Tablet, Christa Pongratz-Lippitt 6 February 2010

A child sex-abuse scandal that was uncovered at an elite Jesuit school in Berlin last week has spread to at least two other schools in Germany, causing deep embarrassment to the Church. The Jesuit provincial leader, Stefan Dartmann, conceded that the order had had evidence of the sexual-abuse cases in question since 1981, but had never informed parents, students or authorities.

It has emerged so far that more than 25 pupils – boys around the age of 13 at the time – were subjected to abuse at the hands of two Jesuit priests in the three schools in the 1970s and 1980s. The abuse started at Berlin’s Canisius College, one of Germany’s most prestigious high schools, in 1975. The two teachers concerned, Fr Wolfgang Stab, now 65, and Fr Peter Riedel, 69, left the Jesuit order of their own accord, in the 1990s.

The current headmaster of Canisius, Fr Klaus Mertens, who has been in his post since 1994, was first approached by two of the victims in 2004 and 2005 but both begged him not to tell anyone about the abuse and so he did not report it. But when five more pupils turned to him after an alumni reunion in December last year, and several more in January, he decided to write to 500 alumni.

“I am deeply shocked and shamed by these appalling assaults which took place systematically over several years,” he wrote, and asked any pupils concerned or who had observed anything to come forward. Twenty-two pupils wrote to say they had been abused. Fr Stefan Dartmann rushed to Berlin from the Jesuit headquarters in Munich on Monday to hold a press conference on the scandal. “I beg forgiveness for the fact that those responsible in the Jesuit order failed to do their duty and did not look into the matter more closely and react accordingly. We are faced with the gnawing question why these incidents did not come to light at the time. The correct thing to do would have been to notify the prosecuting authorities,” he said.

The second school involved is St Blasien, another well-known Jesuit school, in the Black Forest. Fr Hans Joachim Martin, a former headmaster of St Blasien, told the KNA news agency that there had been “serious abuse” at the school and in the Jesuit order in the 1970s that had been “swept under the table”. Wolfgang Stab had moved from Berlin to St Blasien but the school had not been informed of his “criminal past”, Fr Martin said.

There are reported indications from church files that Stab may have also sexually abused children in Chile and Spain until 1990. In a statement addressed to his victims over the weekend, the 65-year-old former sports teacher, who left the order in 1992, said it was “a sad fact that I abused children and young people for years under pseudo-educational pretexts”. He said there was “no excuse”.

Stab, who now lives in South America, claimed that he had informed his Jesuit superiors of his past in 1991. Fr Dartmann said that the order has hired a lawyer “to ascertain what the Jesuits specifically knew at the time, and what steps were taken”. According to Fr Dartmann, Stab taught between 1975 and 1979 at Canisius College before moving on to the St Ansgar School in Hamburg between 1979 and 1982. He then went to St Blasien before moving on to Chile in 1985. The other former Jesuit, Riedel, taught religion at Canisius between 1972 and 1981, before he moved on to Göttingen to work with young people between 1982 and 1989. He was suspended from 1989 and left the order in 1995.

Fr Mertens, the Canisius headmaster, blamed “homophobia” in the Church for the scandal. “Priests with a homosexual orientation are not sure that they will be accepted if they admit to being homosexual,” he said.

In an interview with Domradio on Tuesday, the former head of Vatican Radio’s German section, Fr Eberhard von Gemmingen, said: “I fear that there are still a lot of cases of abuse to be uncovered.” That night, his words were already appearing prophetic. Fr Dartmann revealed to domradio that a new unnamed perpetrator had presented himself to Ursula Raue, the Jesuit order’s lawyer for abuse affairs. Faced with accusations by three victims, the man had admitted his guilt. “I told him to present himself to the police and he has done so. I immediately suspended him from his priestly duties,” Fr Dartmann said.