Roman Catholic clerics in Germany sexually abused thousands of children over a 70-year period, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Wednesday, citing a study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference. Der Spiegel said the study, conducted by three German universities, had revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in Germany between 1946 and 2014.
Asked about the report, a spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference told Reuters: “We are checking the matter.” He added that the organisation would issue a statement later on Wednesday. The Roman Catholic Church, which has more than 1.2 billion adherents worldwide, has grappled in recent years with reports of sexual abuse by clergy that have badly tarnished its moral authority.
The German study examined more than 38,000 personnel and reference files from 27 dioceses around the country and showed that more than half of the victims were aged at most 13 years old at the time of the crime, Spiegel reported.
About one in six of the cases documented involved a form of rape and three quarters of the victims were abused in a church or through a pastoral relationship with the abuser, Spiegel cited the study as saying.
In many cases, pieces of evidence were destroyed or manipulated, it added. The German Bishops’ Conference commissioned the “strictly confidential” study and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, its chairman, is expected to present its findings later this month, Spiegel said.
Der Spiegel quoted the study as saying that the Church had often transferred clerics accused of sexual abuse without providing the new host community with “appropriate information” about them.
Only one third of those accused had to face legal proceedings by the Church and sanctions, if imposed at all, were minimal, it said, adding that 4 percent of those found to have committed sexual abuse were still working.
The study called on the Catholic Church to rethink its refusal to consecrate homosexual men and to view the celibacy obligation imposed on all its clergy as “a potential risk factor”, Der Spiegel reported.
Last month, a grand jury in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse into the Catholic Church in the United States, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.