Pope Benedict XVI poses for a group picture with the Regensburg Cathedral Choir (Regensburger Domspatzen) following an ecumenical verspers in the St. Peter’s Cathedral of Regensburg September 12, 2006.
BERLIN: Nearly 550 members of a German boys’ choir were physically, and in some cases sexually, abused over several decades, a new report has found.
The 440-page report accuses 49 members of the Catholic Church of abusing young members of the Regensburger Domspazten boys choir between 1945 and the early 1990s.
However, the perpetrators are unlikely to face charges because of the time that has elapsed.
The scandal first came to light in 2010 and the church has previously offered to pay victims compensation.
After criticism of that investigation, the diocese – which acknowledged on Tuesday it had “made mistakes” – commissioned lawyer Ulrich Weber in 2015 to put together the independent report.
Mr Weber found that a total of 547 former pupils had probably been victims of physical and/or sexual violence. Of those, some 67 suffered sexual abuse.
Boys who tried to escape the Regensburger Domspatzen, or Regensburg Cathedral Sparrows, were hauled back into the school and beaten and humiliated in front of other boys, the report said.
“Victims … described the institution as a prison, hell and a concentration camp,” he said.
He said the system was focused on achieving musical excellence and a high degree of discipline was commonplace. That provided a basis for violence.
Among those singled out for criticism in the report was the former choirmaster, Georg Ratzinger, who is the elder brother of the former Pope Benedict XVI.
Mr Ratzinger, 93, led the choir from 1964 to 1994. He acknowledged in 2010 that he had slapped pupils in the face but said he had not realised how brutal the discipline was.
Mr Weber said he was “to be blamed especially for turning a blind eye and not intervening despite having knowledge”, adding the investigation did not show he was aware of sexual abuse.
Several testimonies said he was generally friendly.
It was not possible to contact Ratzinger for a comment.
Victims still ‘severely traumatised’ to this day
Choir school victims, many of whom implored their parents to let them come home, said they were still traumatised.
“These are not 547 cases where an individual was affected once. Rather, this was an ongoing practice over decades where 547 children were tormented, abused, mistreated and socially harmed,” former choir boy and abuse victim Alexander Probst told Reuters TV.
“They are severely traumatised to this very day. This upsets me. I thought I had gotten over it after a seven-year battle but in fact this greatly upset me today.”
The Diocese of Regensburg acknowledged its past mistakes and said it wanted to find out what happened and deal with it.
“We all made mistakes and have learned a lot. We see today that we could have done things better and sooner,” General Vicar of Regensburg Diocese Michael Fuchs said.
Allegations of sexual and physical abuse in Catholic schools in Germany, in particular in the former pope’s native Bavaria, have shaken the church and abuse scandals have also rocked it in the United States, Austria and Ireland.