The abuse scandal concerns the Catholic Church for a long time. However, the cases only gradually trickled into public attention, first in the mid-1980s in the USA and in the late 1990s Ireland. There, the pedo-criminal priest Brendan Smyth, for example, was able to abuse children for more than 40 years – there are around 90 victims. Smyth died in prison in 1997. High-ranking clerics in Ireland knew about it and did nothing, and in the years that followed more and more cases became known. A total of three bishops resigned and several state commissions of inquiry were set up. Since then, the Church’s influence and reputation have dwindled sharply in the traditionally Catholic country.
In the USA After the first reports from California and Louisiana in the 1980s, it was primarily the research of the Boston Globe caused a stir in 2002. The journalists were able to prove what was also a key finding in many other studies in other countries: church leaders had known about the crimes for a long time, but kept relocating the perpetrators in order to protect the church as an institution. In the years that followed, the American dioceses paid tens of millions of euros in compensation. Several dioceses have therefore already had to file for bankruptcy.
In Germany The broad debate on the subject only began in 2010, when cases of abuse at the Canisius College in Berlin became public. Reports from many other boarding schools, homes and dioceses followed. In 2018, an interdisciplinary research association commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference published the so-called MHG study, an overview study with data from all over Germany, which, among other things, became the basis for the “Synodal Path” church reform process. After that, individual dioceses also commissioned their own abuse studies. The Archdiocese of Cologne caused a stir because it originally held the office of Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) in Munich. commissioned study unpublished. The reason given was that the WSW study had methodological and legal deficiencies. Instead became commissioned the criminal lawyer Björn Gercke with a new report. In mid-February it will also be in Essen. Other dioceses have not yet commissioned a study. There is still a dispute in Germany about compensation for victims. Those affected particularly criticize the Independent Commission for Recognition Benefits (UKA), which was set up by the bishops’ conference and decides on monetary payments. They accuse her of non-transparent and difficult to understand decisions.
In France – unlike in other countries – a so-called dark field study was commissioned. The number of victims was statistically extrapolated to the total population. Out a number of 216,000 victims have come from clerics since the 1950s. The bishops’ conference promised to initially set up a compensation fund of 20 million euros. Several dioceses also sold real estate and land for this purpose.
In Spain a large abuse study is expected this year. The major Madrid law firm Cremades and Calvo-Sotelo has been commissioned, and their external advisors include the Munich lawyers from Westpfahl Spilker Wastl. The personal background of the head of the law firm, Javier Cremades, is viewed critically by those affected: He is a member of Opus Dei, a conservative association of priests and lay people. “There are signs that there will be something in the Spanish report on systemic issues,” says Ulrich Wastl of the SZ. “We don’t know to what depth, we’re not the reviewers, but there are indications.”
The Spanish investigation is likely to be eagerly awaited, especially in the Vatican. With regard to the universal church and Latin America in particular, Spain is more important than studies from Germany or France. “The impacts are getting closer for the Vatican,” says Ulrich Wastl. “Because of course someone has to ask the question: More than 20 years ago Rome started to enact laws and regulations, cases of abuse had to be reported centrally to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But what happened then?” It should be checked whether the allegations were properly pursued and whether there were human resources for this. Those are questions that need to be asked now. “So I can imagine that there is some excitement in the Vatican over the Spanish investigation.”