MUNICH: At least 547 boys at a German Catholic choir school suffered sexual or physical abuse in what victims have likened to “prison, hell or a concentration camp”, said an investigator releasing a final report on Tuesday on one of the country’s worst such scandals.
The Regensburger Domspatzen (Cathedral Sparrows), a 1,000-year-old cathedral choir in the southern state of Bavaria, was in 2010 dragged into the massive sexual abuse and paedophilia scandal plaguing the Catholic Church around the world.
Many victims remembered the world-famous choir school in the town of Regensburg as “the worst time of their lives, marked by fear, violence and helplessness”, said lawyer Ulrich Weber, who was commissioned two years ago by the diocese to look into the cases.
Presenting his final report on abuses between 1945 and the early 1990s, Weber said he had uncovered 67 cases of sexual abuse and 500 cases of other physical violence, with some former singers having fallen victim to both.
This more than doubled the 231 reported abuse cases by school clergy and educators Weber had uncovered through interviews by January 2016, when he said victims had spoken of rape, sexual assaults, severe beatings and food deprivation.
Weber, who was not able to speak with all former students, said he estimated the true number of victims at around 700.
The investigator pointed to a “culture of silence” that aimed to protect the reputation of the renowned choir of boys and young men that has made many recordings and performed around the world.
He placed part of the blame for the situation on the school’s former choir master Georg Ratzinger, the elder brother of former pope Benedict XVI.
As head of the choir from 1964 to 1994, Georg Ratzinger could be “blamed for looking the other way and failing to intervene” on the physical violence, said Weber, who added there was no evidence Ratzinger knew of the sexual violence.
Ratzinger, 93, has denied knowledge and said that the alleged sexual abuse was “never discussed” while he ran the choir.
Weber also charged that the Regensburg cardinal, Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, had failed to sufficiently clear up the decades of abuse or engage in dialogue with the victims.
Weber said the attacks were concentrated in the boarding schools’ primary section, but also occurred in the secondary section.
He said that 49 alleged perpetrators had been identified, but that they were not expected to face criminal charges as the alleged crimes took place too long ago.
The known victims are now expected to receive 20,000 euros ($23,000) each in compensation.
The diocese apologised in a statement and said that “we all made mistakes and we have learnt a lot”.
Weber agreed in a press conference that the diocese had rectified organisational weaknesses, and that there was a “heightened awareness” about the past abuses.
The abuse scandal is one of several to have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years, notably in Ireland where one priest admitted sexually abusing more than 100 children.
Several German institutions have also been engulfed by the scandal, including an elite Jesuit school in Berlin which admitted to systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.