The former chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference and Archbishop Emeritus of Freiburg, Robert Zollitsch, has apologized for “serious errors” in his handling of abuse cases. He regrets this “with all my heart,” said Zollitsch in a nine-minute video, which was published on its homepage on Thursday. For a long time, his actions were guided too much by the welfare of the Catholic Church. “I didn’t grasp the great extent and, above all, the consequences for those affected by the crimes of sexualized violence and abuse and didn’t look the truth in the eye,” said Zollitsch.
The 84-year-old addresses those affected directly in the video: “I know that I cannot expect you to accept my apology. I also apologize to you, the parents, partners and children of those affected.” He asks Catholics for forgiveness for the damage he has done to the Church. “I know that whatever I say and do now will always be inadequate.”
The video is professionally produced with two camera perspectives, press photos are also available for download on the homepage. A chronology of events can also be found there, in which Zollitsch’s merits in dealing with abuse are highlighted: “At Zollitsch’s insistence”, the bishops’ conference participated in the round table at the Federal Minister of Justice in March 2010; He was “significantly” involved in the development of the guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse; “Chairman puts pressure” is the motto for awarding a first research project.
He was always part of a system
In the second part of the video, Zollitsch argues that, as the person responsible, he was always involved in a “system that, when dealing with sexualised violence, was shaped by a grown and mutually supported culture of silence and secrecy towards the outside world, esprit de corps and self-protection”. . According to Zollitsch, he assumes personal and moral responsibility. In the future he wants to contribute to the further processing of abuse. Those who have experienced suffering and abuse need to find “hearing, recognition and support” from the church.
For several years, an independent panel of experts made up of lawyers and criminologists has been working on an abuse study on behalf of the Archdiocese. A release planned for mid-October was recently postponed to April 2023. Zollitsch had allowed himself to be questioned by the researchers several times, both verbally and by letter. In his video he now said that he had repeatedly requested access to the documents of the ongoing investigation and a personal interview, but the archdiocese and the panel of experts had not complied with this request.
The homepage is now possibly also an attempt to go on the offensive before the study is published. The Archdiocese itself was apparently surprised by the publication on Zollitsch’s private website.
Zollitsch was archbishop in Freiburg from 2003 to 2014, before that he was the diocese’s head of personnel for 20 years and as such was often involved in cases of abuse. From 2008 to 2014, Zollitsch was also chairman of the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference.
He has long been accused of misconduct, and in the case of parish priest Franz B. in Oberharmersbach, Baden, he is said to have known about his actions since at least 1992. Franz B. is said to have abused children and young people for more than 20 years. The pastor was recalled from the parish and moved to an old people’s home, officially for health reasons. At the time, Zollitsch is said to have decreed that the community would not be informed of Franz B.’s actions. After this became public, Zollitsch had admitted mistakes, but so far avoided a comprehensive admission of guilt.