As a ten-year-old, Josef Haslinger was sexually abused by fathers at the Zwettl Boys' Choir Convent. In his new book, "My Case," the author tells his story. A visit to a reading in Cologne's Church St. Agnes.
Very calmly he tells, unexcited, with a low voice in the church St. Agnes in Cologne. The matter-of-factness contradicts what he tells. Josef Haslinger was sexually abused in his childhood by Catholic religious priests. He tells of the massive emotional shocks he suffered. The unagitated, almost matter-of-fact tone gives the narrative a shattering depth. The 120 listeners in the church peer into an abyss of sadistic torment and sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, which the author suffered as a convent student at the Zwettl Boys' Choir Convent in Austria.
The perpetrator profile: The nice Father Gottfried
The religion teacher, Father Gottfried, was an exception, he had understanding for the suffering and loneliness of the beaten children, Haslinger says, he trusted him. But Father Gottfried, a friend of the parents, was one of the fathers in the monastery who took advantage of the children's distress. He sexually abused her. The bond with the perpetrators, who embodied the system of love rather than the system of violence, was all the stronger, says Haslinger. "This is fatal because Father Gottfried, as the perpetrator, has been the only contact we have had". He treated her like a toy.
The powerlessness of a child
Until the death of Father Gottfried, the former monastic Haslinger was unable to make the name of the perpetrators public. He was so deeply entangled inside that he performed something like an identification with the perpetrator, the author says. "As long as they were alive, I showed consideration for them. I didn't want to spoil their old age". Haslinger has long tried to play down the trauma of his own abuse by convincing himself that he himself had participated in it. He did not want to admit the powerlessness of a ten-year-old child in the face of a 30-year-old man. He had suppressed the lifelong fears and grievances. He could not face them. "When I learned that the main perpetrator had died, it was as if someone had flipped a switch in me. That was a liberating feeling, because I thought, now I can also say it".
'My case', a literary testimony
The book "My Case" is a literary testimony. Alongside the experiences of his childhood are the experiences Haslinger later had when he decided to tell his story to the Klasnic Commission set up by the Church in Austria to come to terms with sexual abuse. He was sent back and forth, three times he had to describe his experiences in detail, only to be told, as a bizarre punch line to the torturous procedure, that as a writer he should write everything down himself. Haslinger decided not to comply with this request. He wrote a letter to those in charge to explain his decision. The letter then became the book "My Case".
Clarification is urgently needed
Haslinger says, for him it would be the greatest compensation, if the church would finally consequently work up the abuse in the convict Zwettl. But there is no effort so far, he says. In all the years until today, none of the responsible clergy had approached him to apologize personally. Abuse of untold numbers of children, he said, was a powerful sin perpetrated for decades, perhaps centuries. "If the church succeeded in confronting this sin, it might be more able to turn back to the future," he says.
A religious phantom pain
Haslinger himself has left the church. He has lost his faith in the Catholic Church, he can no longer trust the religious institution. "How does one feel this transcendental emptiness?" he wonders. "If you wipe away the whole religious edifice, what God has represented. The questions, which were connected with it and for which there was this faith, did not disappear thereby. Where do we come from? Where are we going? The answers have all been wiped away," Haslinger tells Church St. Agnes. "I have the feeling that there is a liturgical phantom pain in me. I have to endure it just".
After ninety concentrated minutes of reading and discussion, there is long applause from the audience. Peter Otten, pastoral counselor in St. Agnes, thanks Josef Haslinger and emphasizes how important it is for the church to expose itself to these harrowing testimonies. A church is the right place to let the victims speak and to listen to them. After the reading there will be wine and bread and many conversations with the author – this will also take place in the church.