Pope's brother admits hitting children at sex scandal school
Former pupils doubt Georg Ratzinger was unaware of paedophile priests
Published 10/03/2010 | 05:00
The Pope's brother gave a rare insight yesterday into a pervasive culture of violence at Roman Catholic institutions, admitting that he hit children while he was choirmaster at a German boarding school.
Georg Ratzinger led Germany's leading Catholic boys' choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen, for 30 years until 1994. The school and its choir are at the centre of allegations of sexual abuse over several decades.
In an interview with the Catholic newspaper, 'Passauer Neue Presse', Monsignor Ratzinger (86) said that he had no knowledge of sexual abuse but admitted that boys were often punished harshly, sometimes in an arbitrary manner.
"I myself handed out slaps repeatedly, although I always had a bad conscience about it," he said.
Clipping boys around the ears, he said, was a "standard response to failure or misbehaviour". However, he added: "I was happy when in 1980 corporal punishment was banned by law."
The Catholic Church in Germany, like the US and here, has been rocked by revelations of physical and sexual abuse.
Liberal Catholics, especially in Germany, have questioned how much the Pope knew of sexual abuse in his country's church when he was a professor of theology in the 1960s and Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1971 to 1982.
The German government has gone so far as to accuse the Vatican of suppressing the truth. On Monday, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the German justice minister, said that a "wall of silence" was imposed on Catholic-run schools by a 2001 Vatican directive which declared cases of abuse "subject to papal confidentiality".
It was issued at a time when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope, was head of doctrine.
The Vatican has switched to crisis management amid the sex abuse allegations and the threat of lawsuits across Europe and North America.
In Germany, the allegations surfaced in January, when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted sexual abuse of its pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s. Other Catholic schools have since been implicated as more victims have come forward.
Mgr Ratzinger pleaded ignorance about paedophile priests but admitted that some boys at the Regensburg school had been treated brutally. In the interview he spoke about the "very violent" headmaster, who was in charge between 1953 and 1992, and who for legal reasons can be named only as Johann M.
"I knew that Headmaster M often handed out severe slaps -- and also that these slaps were often delivered at the smallest of pretexts," he said.
Some former pupils described the headmaster as a sadist who imposed "a reign of terror", and said they found it improbable that the choirmaster knew nothing about the sex abuse. (© The Times, London)