Cover-up accusations against former bishop

Cover-up accusations against former bishop

View of Trier Cathedral © NatalyaBond (shutterstock)

What exactly did the former bishop of Trier, Bernhard Stein, know?? The initiative Missbit accuses him of having covered up sexual abuse. Bishop Stein Square in Trier could now be renamed.

The initiative Missbit raises serious accusations against the former bishop of Trier Bernhard Stein (1904-1993): He had not only known about sexual abuse by clerics during his term of office from 1967 to 1980, but had covered up acts and perpetrators by merely transferring encroaching priests.

And in one case, even against the explicit warning of his official. In addition to clarification, the initiative now demands a symbolic act of public sympathy: the city should give the Bishop Stein Square, which is centrally located in Trier's old town, a new name.

The accusations are based on research by Trier historian and Missbit spokesman Thomas Schnitzler, who presented his findings in Trier on Tuesday evening. Schnitzler refers to documents from the personal files of accused priests, which he was able to view as a person affected by the accusations. He further relies on statements of those affected and people from their environment.

Rename Bishop Stein Square?

According to the report, Schnitzler collected information on priests from the diocese who were ordained between 1945 and 1980. The historian went into detail about 26 clerics, showed pictures of the accused, named the deeds they were accused of and their further career. Some had been transferred several times. Many had continued to work with children, in schools or hospitals, even after they had been accused of abuse. The later places of operation were not informed about the accusations and personnel files were blacked out, the historian criticizes.

Schnitzler suggested that Bishop Stein Square be renamed "Human Dignity Square". The city must consider whether this bishop is worthy of the honor that comes to him with the naming of the square, said the historian.

The diocese announced its intention to shed light on Stein's role and his handling of abuse in the course of the diocese-wide reappraisal. The criteria agreed upon with the German government's abuse commissioner, Johannes-Wilhelm Rorig, would be followed in the process. "Before the result of such a reappraisal, for which there will be an independent commission, the question of renaming the square is premature," the diocese said.

Concrete case description

Schnitzler describes several cases specifically and in detail: One case revolves around a former chaplain in Trier-Kurenz. The historian refers to a letter from the then Offizial to Stein, dated 23. March 1968. In it, the head of the ecclesiastical court called on the bishop to initiate proceedings against a chaplain accused of abuse on several occasions. The letter states that the Offizial spoke with the mother of one of the boys involved.

Accordingly, the Offizial recommended that the chaplain be suspended. "It seems unacceptable to me that the aforementioned misconduct remains unpunished." How and whether Stein answered the Offizial is unknown. In a letter dated 1. July 1968 the bishop informs the chaplain that he is transferring him from his position in Trier-Kurenz to Bettingen in the Eifel. According to Schnitzler, such a procedure is not an isolated case.

The mood among the audience on Tuesday evening is calm and at the same time tense. When Schnitzler introduces the individual accused, one hears whispers – from "I knew him" to insults of the alleged perpetrator. Members of the audience speak out and express their incomprehension of the way in which the victims and the accused were treated. And anger about the fact that no one from the diocese was officially available to answer their questions at the event.

They no longer expect anything from the church, they say. On the other hand, they place hopes in politics: "If the Bishop Stone Square falls, then the church power structures will be tarnished," says an audience member.

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