'Tsunami' of fresh claims in Pope's old diocese
The head of a task force set up to deal with sex abuse by priests in the Pope's former archdiocese in Germany has been inundated by a "tsunami" of new claims.
Fresh claims have emerged that Pope Benedict XVI failed to do enough to safeguard children from paedophile priests when, as Joseph Ratzinger, he was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.
"It's like a tsunami," said Elke Huemmeler, the female head of the diocese's newly established Task Force on Sexual Abuse Prevention.
Yesterday, the body began reviewing about 120 cases of alleged sexual abuse. About 100 involve a boarding school run by Benedictine monks at Ettal, in southern Bavaria.
The most damaging revelation is that the then archbishop allowed a priest accused of molesting an 11-year-old boy to move to his diocese in order to undergo "therapy" in 1980.
That came after three sets of parents alleged he had abused their children in the north-western city of Essen, the diocese there said. The priest underwent therapy, but then returned to work with youngsters.
Werner Huth, a Munich psychiatrist, has revealed he had repeatedly warned senior officials in the Munich archdiocese about the priest, Fr Peter Hullermann, who was fined and given an 18-month suspended sentence for sex offences in 1986.
The Vatican and the Munich archdiocese say that the Pope was not involved in the decision to allow Fr Hullermann to resume his duties as a priest after his Munich "therapy".
Fr Hullermann was suspended this week at his current parish, Bad Tolz, in Bavaria, for violating an undertaking not to have contact with children or young people.
Pope Benedict was archbishop of Munich and Freising at the time of the priest's transfer from Essen to Munich for therapy in 1980. The diocese has said the Pope knew about the transfer, but not about the priest's continued work in Bavarian congregations after he assumed his duties at the Vatican.
Erwin Wild, then spokesman of the diocese's council of priests, said he and his colleagues were not informed by the then-archbishop that the priest was an offender, which he thinks was wrong.
However, Ms Huemmeler stressed her role was not to deal with the old cases, but help set up the prevention programme.
The task force, commissioned by Archbishop Reinhard Marx, is the first of its kind in the German church, which has been shaken to its foundation by new allegations of sexual and physical attacks on minors since the beginning of the year.
When the first abuse cases broke at Ettal about three weeks ago, Ms Huemmeler sat down with colleagues to brainstorm and find a way out of the "disaster", as she called it. "I don't think I have ever seen us that shocked," Ms Huemmeler said about the church leadership.
The diocese runs about 20 schools, 570 child care facilities and numerous youth groups.
Ms Huemmeler mentioned a man who was abused as a child in the 1970s in a home for disabled children. He contacted the diocese to tell his story this week -- again leaving the church leadership shocked.
"It is all really terrible, but we are going to listen to everything," Ms Huemmeler said.