By Justin Huggler, Berlin, 4 January 2019
A German cardinal on Friday provoked anger and controversy when he claimed the Catholic church was not responsible for sexual abuse by its clerics, and instead sought to pin the blame on homosexuality.
“What has happened in the church is no different from what is happening in society as a whole,” Cardinal Walter Brandmüller said. “The real scandal is that the Catholic church hasn’t distinguished itself from the rest of society.”
A study commissioned by the German Bishops Conference and published last year found that more than 3,600 children were sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014.
But Cardinal Brandmüller claimed that only a “vanishingly small number” of clergy had committed abuses. He said the real problem was homosexuality and claimed it is “statistically proven” that there is a link between homosexuality and abuse.
Society “forgets or covers up the fact that 80 per cent of cases of sexual assault in the church involved male youths not children,” he told Germany’s DPA news agency in an interview a few days ahead of his 90th birthday.
Cardinal Brandmüller’s outburst comes days after the Pope urged Catholic bishops in the US to confront the “sins and crimes” of sexual abuse by the clergy and “the efforts made to deny or conceal them”.
“Everything we do risks being tainted by self-referentiality, self-preservation and defensiveness, and thus doomed from the start,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to American bishops ahead of a spiritual retreat to reflect on the issue.
“As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.”
Cardinal Brandmüller has been one of Pope Francis’ most outspoken critics within the Catholic church, and is one of four cardinals who have repeatedly challenged the Pope’s teachings on love and family life.
The cardinal’s comments were swiftly condemned on social media and by leading German commentators.
“What a shameful way for the Catholic Church to relativise guilt and defame homosexuals. Disgraceful,” Ulf Poschardt, the editor of Welt newspaper, wrote on Twitter.