Psychiatrist: Pope's Archdiocese Ignored Abuse Warnings
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(March 19) – A German archdiocese led by the future Pope Benedict XVI ignored repeated warnings in the early 1980s from a psychiatrist treating a pedophile priest that his patient should not be allowed near children, the doctor says in an interview published today.
"I said, 'For God's sake, he desperately has to be kept away from working with children,'" Dr. Werner Huth told The New York Times in a telephone interview Thursday from Munich. "I was very unhappy about the entire story."
At the time, Joseph Ratzinger -- who would later become the current Pope Benedict XVI -- was archbishop of Munich and Freising, where Huth filed several explicit warnings, verbal and written. The complaints were filed before Ratzinger left Germany in 1982 to take a Vatican position, though Huth said he did not have a direct conversation with Ratzinger and didn't know whether the future pope personally read his letters.
The case began in the German industrial city of Essen, where three sets of parents complained to the church that the Rev. Peter Hullermann had had "sexual relations" with their children in February 1979, according to a statement this week by the Essen diocese.
Hullermann did not deny the allegations, but the church told parents it would not file charges against him in order to protect their children. At the time, it was common practice for the church not to involve law enforcement in abuse cases. Instead, Hullermann was ordered to undergo therapy with Huth.
Huth said he recommended one-on-one sessions with the priest, but that Hullermann refused and took part in group therapy instead. He said Hullermann was "neither invested nor motivated" to get anything out of those sessions.
"He did the therapy out of fear that he would lose his post" and a "fear of punishment," Huth said.
The doctor, now 80, described conditions he set for treating Hullermann: that he stay away from young people and alcohol, and be supervised by another priest at all times. He said he shared his concerns with church officials frequently, but that his recommendations were only enforced intermittently.
Almost immediately after his therapy began, Hullermann was allowed to return to working unrestricted in a church, where he interacted with children, the Times said. Two years later he took a job teaching religion in a public school, and within a few years was accused of molesting more boys. Hullermann was convicted in Bavaria in 1986 of sexual abuse of minors.
Another psychiatrist commissioned by the court to examine him said "alcohol played a big role" in Hullermann's behavior. Dr. Johannes Kemper, who wrote an expert opinion for the 1986 trial, said the priest "drank, and then under the influence of alcohol he watched porn videos with the youths."
Hullermann's court file was sealed after his probation ended, but Kemper described the trial to the Times, saying the priest's victims lined up outside the courtroom and entered one by one to testify. He said he couldn't remember exactly how many victims there were, but "between five and 10" boys.
Hullermann was sentenced to a fine and five years' probation, according to the Munich prosecutor's office.
The decision to allow the priest to return to parish work was made during Ratzinger's tenure as archbishop. His then-deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, took the blame, admitting to what he called "serious mistakes."
The Times said the archdiocese did not respond to repeated attempts this week for comment. A spokesman would comment only generally on the topic of Hullermann's therapy, saying that 30 years ago, "the subject was treated very differently in society."
"There was a tendency to say it could be therapeutically treated," archdiocese spokesman Bernd Oostenryck said Wednesday.
After Hullermann's conviction, he was moved to a church in the German town of Garching an der Alz, where he worked for 21 years. The town's mayor told the Times on Thursday that he's angry at the church for failing to inform his community about the priest's criminal record, saying his townspeople were used "as guinea pigs."
"Had we known, we definitely would have done something," Mayor Wolfgang Reichenwallner said. "We just can't afford the risk that children in our community are put in harm's way.
"We got lucky that nothing seems to have happened," Reichenwallner said.