“Guilt loaded on me”

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen has admitted mistakes in dealing with a priest twice convicted of abuse. "I have brought guilt upon myself," he now told the current "Time" supplement "Christ World".

When he learned about the case shortly after taking office in Essen at the beginning of 2010, he did not ask to see the personnel file. "Otherwise I might have seen the dimension of the case," the Ruhr bishop said. However, he ruled out a resignation because of this mistake.

Expert opinion to be published

The case of the now 87-year-old priest A. Had caused fierce criticism at the end of 2019. Despite the two convictions, he worked as a pastor in three dioceses, from 2002 as a retired chaplain in the Essen diocese. The participating dioceses of Cologne, Munster and Essen have commissioned investigations into the case. The expert opinion commissioned by the diocese of Essen is to be published on Wednesday.

The priest of the Archdiocese of Cologne had served in Cologne since 1960 and then in Essen-Kettwig, which is part of the archdiocese, before he was sentenced to prison in 1972 for "continued fornication with children and addicts". He then served in the diocese of Munster from 1973 until 1988, when he received a suspended sentence for sexual acts with minors.

In 1989, A. returned to Cologne as a nursing home chaplain. As a retired chaplain, he was then in Bochum-Wattenscheid in the Essen diocese from 2002 to 2015. Only in 2019 the Cardinal of Cologne Rainer Maria Woelki banned him from priestly services. Meanwhile, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican has begun an ecclesiastical criminal trial against the clergyman, who now lives in a nursing home.

Overbeck rules out resignation

According to Overbeck, no further acts have so far been reported by A. from his time in the Essen diocese became known. But it had been a mistake not to have prevented its use. He had "not properly perceived" his responsibility at the beginning of his time as bishop in Essen. He ruled out a resignation because of this.

"For me, taking responsibility means learning. I consider this appropriate in this case." However, there may be other cases, Overbeck said, "where I might have to set a different tone".

The bishop defended that the expert opinion on the handling of the case by the diocese of Essen had been inaccurate. will not name anyone responsible. "Those responsible in recent years can all know," said the bishop. 'Just knowing who did it doesn't help, though'."

What matters most, he said, is what present and future actions most serve to take responsibility for victims and remove perpetrators from ministry forever. In the case A. At least eleven bishops had been involved over the years, two of them during their time as former personnel managers.

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