“This must not be repeated”

Archbishop Stephan Burger © Andreas Kuhlken (KNA)

Archbishop Burger of Freiburg sees mistakes by his predecessor Zollitsch in dealing with cases of sexual abuse. At the same time, Burger announces that he will continue to work through the abuse and abuse prevention in the Archdiocese of Freiburg.

CBA: Archbishop, thousands of personnel files were evaluated for the nationwide study on abuse in the Catholic Church. In the Archdiocese of Freiburg, this found indications that information about acts of abuse had been removed to protect the perpetrators. How many files are affected?

Stephan Burger (Archbishop of Freiburg): I cannot narrow it down exactly. But it is clear that there have been repeated manipulations. Most of them are very long ago. And it is clear that this must not happen again. I have now made provisions for this. For example, by requiring all pages in personnel files to be numbered consecutively. This was not the case until now and made it easier to make things disappear.

CBA: You see a "deliberate cover-up" of abuse cases. What are you referring to? Who is responsible?

Burger: One case is Oberharmersbach. There, a parish priest abused young people from 1968 to the early 1990s. My predecessor as archbishop, Robert Zollitsch, has already admitted that the diocesan leadership made mistakes at that time. I have to ame that my predecessor in office knew about these events.

CBA: But the case was never worked through in detail. For example, to find out which structures favored the years of abuse or why the voice of victims was not heard.

Burger: A comprehensive investigation of the case would be an important task in its own right. On the other hand, there are those affected who do not want everything to be reopened. I recently sought a conversation with the congregation. It has become clear to me that it would be important for many of those affected to hear one more word from Alterzbischof Zollitsch. That he would signal that he, too, has made mistakes. But of course that's his decision, which I can't take away from him.

CBA: Are you in contact with your predecessor with regard to Oberharmersbach and the processing of abuse in general??

Burger: Not at the moment, but a conversation would be very important to me. Also, to hear from his side the assessments and perceptions.

CBA: During your visit, the parish priest in Oberharmersbach demanded that Zollitsch no longer be entrusted with tasks because he had gambled away trust.

Burger: Alterbishop is now very rarely on the road on behalf of the archdiocese. But of course he still has many appointments where he is requested for lectures or church services. He is free to do so.

CBA: Experts give your diocese a good report card for prevention work against abuse. At the same time, the nationwide study has called for church structures to be reviewed because they can encourage the abuse of power. How do you deal with it?

Burger: We have set up a specialist group to look into these ies in order to prevent abuse of power and clericalism. The task of priests and all church employees is to serve others and not to exercise power over them. This is an important concern for me. On the other hand, prevention work remains a constant challenge. It is a matter of making all employees permanently aware of this ie.

CBA: Does this also include a new way of thinking about sexual morality or celibacy??

Burger: These discussions will certainly continue, we must not avoid them. That is why these questions are also on the agenda of the German Bishops' Conference.

The interview was conducted by Volker Hasenauer.

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