Monday 15 April 2024

Abuse: Rottenburg diocese sees "interim findings" in report

The Commission for the Investigation of Sexual Abuse in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has caused a stir with its 2023 annual report, which was published on Thursday

This is because the term of office of Cardinal Walter Kasper, now 91 years old, who was bishop of the Württemberg diocese from 1989 to 1999, also plays a role. 

The commission's 70-page report states that "dilettantism, excessive demands and incompetence, concealment or cover-up" prevailed in dealing with sexual abuse by clerics "until the 1990s".

The diocesan administrator in office since the departure of Bishop Gebhard Fürst in December 2023, Clemens Stroppel, told the Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur (KNA) on Friday that the diocesan leadership was taking this 2023 annual report "very seriously". 

Regarding the question of whether Cardinal Kasper would now have to explain himself and take responsibility or confess guilt, Stroppel said that he saw "no basis" for such conclusions in the "interim findings" of the commission's report.

File note on a case of abuse from Walter Kasper's time as bishop

In his assessment, Stroppel referred, among other things, to a passage from the report that states: "'Hiding' was apparently a common term for dealing with clerical sex offenders." 

According to the commission, in one case from Walter Kasper's time as bishop, a memo from the personnel officer at the time contains the sentence: "He would then have to spend another month in the (monastery). I don't know of any other 'hiding place'".

In his assessment, Stroppel also referred to the fact that the commission report states in the section "Evaluation of the secret archives in the bishop's house": "The files in the case of sexual abuse mainly concern the time of Bishops Sproll (4 cases), Leiprecht (10 cases), Moser (2 cases) and Kasper (3 cases), whereby there are temporal overlaps during the bishops' terms of office in individual cases." 

Before Kasper, Georg Moser (1975 to 1988), Carl Joseph Leiprecht (1949 to 1974) and Johannes Baptista Sproll (1927 to 1949) served as bishops.

Stroppel explained that the diocesan leadership was not yet aware of any of the original files or eyewitness accounts cited in the report. "So the interim report still needs to be analysed and evaluated in detail." 

However, "the results with regard to the handling of perpetrators and victims as well as with regard to written records basically correspond to the results known from other dioceses for the corresponding periods," said Stroppel. He will lead the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

Final report of the commission not expected for another two years

The commission is not expected to present a final report for another two years "after the end of the investigation", as Anne Mülhöfer, managing director of the commission, said on Friday in response to a KNA enquiry. 

The committee currently sees one of its primary tasks as "identifying structures that enabled or facilitated sexual abuse or made it more difficult to uncover".

Files are being scrutinised and contemporary witnesses interviewed as part of the investigation. There have already been discussions with former personnel managers, including Kasper and the former diocesan administrator and Auxiliary Bishop Johannes Kreidler. 

"The majority of contemporary witnesses were asked whether they were aware of any cover-ups, in particular the destruction of files," the report states. None of the witnesses reported "deliberate cover-ups of sexualised violence through the destruction of files". 

However, a personal principle applied when dealing with the topic of sexualised violence: "Many things were discussed and negotiated verbally or by telephone; the contents of conversations were not recorded." 

The commission's conclusion: "Concealment was therefore a permanent state in which active cover-up was not necessary."