Inquiry Finds That At Least 547 Boys Were Abused at German Catholic Music School

The Regensburg Cathedral in Germany last year. Over the past two years, an independent lawyer conducted interviews with victims of abuse that took place at the cathedral’s music school for decades.
Gordon Welters for The New York Times

For decades, a “culture of silence” pervaded a Catholic music school where the brother of a future pope directed a renowned boys’ choir, contributing to an environment in which at least 547 children were abused, a lawyer who carried out an investigation of the mistreatment said on Tuesday.

The estimate of the number of children abused was far greater than a previous figure, 231, that the lawyer gave last year.

The choir — the Regensburg Domspatzen, literally the Cathedral Sparrows — dates to the 10th century and continues to perform at Sunday Mass in Regensburg’s 16th-century Gothic cathedral. The choir’s music director from 1964 to 1994 was the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, whose younger brother, Joseph Ratzinger, reigned as Pope Benedict XVI from 2005 to 2013.

Father Ratzinger, now 93, has apologized for slapping boys during his tenure, and said he stopped administering corporal punishment when the church banned it in 1980. He has denied awareness of sexual abuse taking place, and the new investigation does not implicate him in it.

The abuse came to light in 2010, but only after intense pressure from the victims did the diocese call upon an outside lawyer, Ulrich Weber, to conduct an independent inquiry.

Over the past two years, Mr. Weber and a team of colleagues conducted interviews with victims and other former pupils and scanned archives from 1945 to 1992.

Over all, Mr. Weber evaluated 616 reports of abuse; he deemed fewer than a dozen not at all plausible. Others Mr. Weber determined to be questionable, meaning that the abuse could not be ruled out.

In the remaining cases, 547 in total, the reports of abuse were deemed plausible, based on interviews or other corroborating evidence. Of those cases, 67 are believed to have involved sexual abuse. The others involved various forms of corporal punishment, including ear-twisting and beatings with a cane.

As in other institutions in which longstanding patterns of abuse have come to light, a combination of shame, secrecy and impunity contributed to the abuses at the music school in Regensburg, which is about 70 miles northeast of Munich, in southeastern Germany.

The abuse remained taboo, discussed only among some of the victims, who felt ostracized by their fellow alumni.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Melissa Eddy