Reinhard Cardinal Marx © Marijan Murat
In a ten-year-old suspected case of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in the diocese of Trier, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, is facing criticism.
As reported by Saarlandischer Rundfunk, Marx, as bishop of Trier at the time, knew in 2006 of prosecutor's investigations against the clergyman. The accused had partially confessed to the abuse of a youth. However, because the accusations were time-barred under criminal law, the authority had discontinued the investigation. The diocese of Trier had indeed questioned the pastor, whereupon he denied the accusations. However, the files of the judiciary had not been requested.
As a spokesman for the Saarbrucken prosecutor's office confirmed to the Catholic News Agency (KNA) on Wednesday, the diocese was informed in 2006 that the case had been dropped. However, this was presumably done informally – without giving reasons, for example, that the discontinuation was due to a statute of limitations.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising confirmed on the same day that Marx had attended a meeting of the personnel commission of the Diocese of Trier in 2006, which dealt with a report from the prosecuting authority that the investigation had been dropped.
Correct procedure according to guidelines at the time
It had been proceeded "in accordance with the then applicable guidelines of the German Bishops' Conference" from 2002. "Today, the procedure in such a case is different, own investigations would be initiated," the spokesman said. "The German bishops have drawn conclusions from bitter experiences and adopted corresponding new guidelines that apply to all dioceses."
The church's dealings with the public prosecutor's office in cases of abuse were first specified in the guidelines of the German Bishops' Conference in 2010 and then again in 2013. The 2010 catch states that ecclesiastical preliminary investigations must be conducted independently of proceedings by the secular justice system. However, they made use of the results of the state prosecutors as far as given.
In 2013, the handling of cases not cleared up by the public prosecutor was also regulated for the first time. So it says in number 39: If a statute of limitations has occurred, "but there are factual indications that justify the amption of sexual abuse of minors or adult charges, the competent church authorities shall themselves seek clarification within the scope of their possibilities".
Preliminary ecclesiastical investigation opened against defendant
As the diocese of Trier announced in May, investigations by the public prosecutor's office against the now 64-year-old were ongoing in 2006, 2013 and 2016. The proceedings had been discontinued in each case. He said the diocese did not receive the 2006 files until spring 2016. From these documents, it said, there is sufficient initial suspicion for acts against a person who was a minor at the time, which are barred by the statute of limitations under state law but not under church law. The Vatican has tightened the statute of limitations for such crimes several times in recent years.
On this basis, the current Bishop of Trier Stephan Ackermann had initiated a preliminary ecclesiastical investigation against the clergyman, the diocese said. The priest, who had worked in a Saarland parish for around 30 years, had since been forbidden to celebrate church services in public and to have contact with children and young people. According to the diocese, the clergyman had taken several vacation trips with young people.