Jesuit Teachers at Top German School Admit Sexually Abusing Boys

From The Times
February 4, 2010

A Jesuit teacher confessed yesterday to sexually abusing boys at a top German school, further engulfing the country’s Roman Catholic Church in a scandal over the mistreatment of dozens of pupils in its care.

Almost 30 alleged victims have come forward with claims against three Jesuit staff, saying that they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s at Canisius college in Berlin, alma mater of some of the country’s political, business and academic elite.

Peter R and Wolfgang S left the school in 1981 and 1979 respectively while the third alleged perpetrator, named as Bernhard E, 70, was suspended from the Jesuit order yesterday after admitting one case of sexual abuse. Three further victims made claims against him. Mr S, a former gym teacher, 65, now living in Chile, has confessed to the allegations and last week wrote an open letter of apology to victims, while Mr R has denied the allegations.

Bernhard E worked at schools in other regions of Germany including Hamburg and Hanover before founding a charity in 1983, and gaining numerous accolades including honorary degrees. There were also fresh claims against the other two teachers, from as far afield as St Blasien in southern Germany and Hildesheim near Hanover, where they also taught.

“The cases from the 1970s in Hanover give rise to the fear that there were similar assaults at other places,” said Stefan Dartmann, the head of the German Jesuit Order, yesterday.

Alleged victims have told the German press that they were punished by being spanked or caned on their bare buttocks, often while alone in a room with one of the men. Others said that they were asked embarrassing details about masturbation or ordered to masturbate in front of a teacher.

Mr Dartmann admitted that the Jesuit order in Germany had evidence of the sexual abuse cases since 1981, but had never informed parents, students or the authorities. The alleged abusers could no longer be prosecuted in Germany because of its statute of limitations, he said.

The scandal came to light after the school’s current headmaster, Pastor Klaus Mertes, wrote a letter to about 600 students who attended the school between 1975 and 1989, asking for victims to come forward.

“It was with shock and shame that I have learnt of these revolting violations that went on for years,” he wrote. “Among those who had a duty to protect the victims at Canisius College, and among the order, there was a culture of looking away.”

Pastor Mertes added that the problem of abuse was aggravated by a lack of a complaints procedure within the Jesuit order, an “obsession with church sexual pedagogy” and a “disproportionate use of power”.

The Berliner Morgenpost reported that Mr R was attacked with a knife in 1986 by a former Canisius pupil who later committed suicide. At the time, the priest persuaded police not to investigate, the paper said.

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