“Also clear up the cover-up of the cover-up”

Klaus Mertes SJ © Markus Nowak (KNA)

The interim report on the Regensburg abuse cases shows that there were significantly more assaults than previously amed. Jesuit Father Klaus Mertes is not surprised by this development, as he told our site explained.

Interviewer: At the time, you publicized cases of abuse at the Canisius College in Berlin, of which you were rector at the time – and thus became a pioneer of clarification. In 2010, you virtually initiated the reappraisal of sexual abuse at Catholic institutions. Are you surprised that once again 5 years later such abysses are opening up – in such a renowned Catholic educational institution?

Father Mertes: I am not surprised. We ourselves have made the experience, also for example in America, that there is a wave of clarification, which then drags on for years. This is due to the fact that first of all the victims have to bring themselves to speak out. For her, this is a difficult and serious decision. But her decision is decisive for the enlightenment.

Interviewer: One can certainly get the impression that the Catholic Church is still struggling to come to terms with these crimes against children and young people. Why?
Father Mertes: Because the moment I learn that there have been such crimes in my school, in my parish, in my diocese – and I'm not just talking about bishops now, but believers in general – of course it's an incredible pain. This pain calls into question the entire self-image of the institution and manifests itself first of all in a defensive attitude toward the victims. What the victims have to say is not what they want to hear. At the same time, it is a clarification, if one takes it seriously, always connected with the decision to believe the victims. And that is also a serious decision. Because if you believe the victims, this has direct consequences for your self-image.
Interviewer: Georg Ratzinger, the longtime director of the boys' choir, must have known about the abuse cases. This is what special investigator Ulrich Weber said – which of course shocked many people. How can it be that a man of the church, who is certainly a man of integrity, remains silent for so long about such outrageous events??
Father Mertes: I know the same phenomenon also from us Jesuits at the Canisius College in Berlin. At that time we had one perpetrator and suspected a hundred victims or more. And there, too, we had to ask ourselves: How can it be that people of integrity knew and kept quiet about it?? I explain this by saying that the people concerned somehow felt the enormity of the event in its consequences and did not want to let the pain of this information get to them. One cannot listen to victim reports without the willingness to change oneself. That is the crucial point.
Interviewer: But today we are five years ahead – in 2010 there was a whole wave of abuse cases that came to light. And, of course, those responsible today know that they are harming their church by using delaying tactics, for example, in the clarification process.
Father Mertes: That is right. And I also think that those responsible must draw their consequences from this. This constant apologizing after the fact is not enough, it is outrageous!
our siteWhat would be the most important consequences?

Father Mertes: The first decisive consequence is to take responsibility for what one has done or omitted to do; to face up to the conversation with the victims and to stop constantly looking for scapegoats, to rail against people who have fouled one's nest or the press or others – but rather to really take responsibility now, also for one's own cover-up. In my opinion, this can lead to resignations. I'm not calling for resignations here, but I don't understand how it's possible to get out of a story like this scot-free, after having allowed such a run-up of cover-ups – of not listening and of listening away. I don't want to judge this in moral terms, but it is essentially a matter of finally taking real responsibility. In Regensburg, the process has not only been underway since 2010, but since 2002, when the first incidents in the diocese became known.

Interviewer: In 2010, the then Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Ludwig Muller, considered the cases to be "isolated incidents" and spoke of a "media campaign" – this is now different under his successor Rudolf Voderholzer. The interim report also bears witness to this. What do you say – better late than never?
Father Mertes: Better late than never, of course! But now, of course, part of the clarification is not only the clarification of the abuse, but also the clarification of the cover-up and then the clarification of the cover-up of the cover-up of the abuse.
Interviewer: Attorney Ulrich Weber has now convened a board of trustees that is supposed to come to terms with the crimes – with representatives of the victims, with representatives of the board of the Domspatzen foundation, with the bishop, the vicar general and mediators. In your eyes a sensible step?
Father Mertes: Surely this is a sensible step. I can't judge how it is put together in detail, because I don't have any knowledge about the concrete events. But it is good that there must be a reappraisal here, and that this is done above all – and this is decisive – independently. This is now obviously given in Regensburg with the person of Ulrich Weber. This is crucial for the credibility of the whole process.
Interviewer: What do you wish the victims of Regensburg?
Father Mertes: That they find faith with their stories and that in the recognition there is not only the recognition of suffering but also of the truth of their stories.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter

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