There were new sounds in the abuse probe. Bishops Wilmer and Burger had recently accused their former diocesan leaders of grave errors on the subject. What does a theologian and abuse victim himself think about it?
Interviewer: First, Hildesheim Bishop Heiner Wilmer spoke out, accusing his late predecessor of failure. Then Freiburg Archbishop Stephan Burger expressed himself in a similar way. His predecessor and those responsible in the diocesan administration would have ignored cries for help and thus brought guilt upon themselves. Welcome the verbal advances of the two German bishops?
Prof. Wolfgang Treitler (professor of fundamental theology in Vienna): Yes. I welcome them in principle because I think they are borne of an attempt to really bring openness and transparency to these stories. You can't hold this back anymore. I'm glad that this is really being taken up now too.
Interviewer: Both Bishop Wilmer and Archbishop Burger are relatively new in office, and for bishops, at 57 and 56 years old, respectively, they are also relatively young. Conversely, can this mean that for real clarification, that is, for a real turnaround in dealing with abuse, new and uninvolved faces would be needed??
Treidler: That may be helpful, because these people have also grown into the time, where one watches the church already more closely, what it does and how it represents its things, and does not simply accept that.
On the other hand, I do not see anything else represented than what must be basically in the face of ecclesiastical people: Namely, the willingness and also the execution of constant conversion. That has become visible at least here times at two "lights".
Interviewer: You welcome this initiative. But doesn't it also raise questions for you?
Treidler: I hope that these two bishops have enough backbone to weather possible headwinds. I see that now also with the example of Father Wucherpfennig (The rector of the Jesuit University Sankt Georgen has so far been denied a third term by the Vatican after statements about homosexuality, Note: The rector of the Jesuit University Sankt Georgen has been denied a third term by the Vatican after statements about homosexuality. d. Red.), how hard Vatican institutions react to things that are really peripheral, where it is not about fates, but about statements. That is one thing that I see as a huge problem. I really hope for these two bishops that they will take people with them who will pull in the same direction and who will be able to withstand the headwind that will surely come.
Interviewer: What kind of consequences would the bishops have to draw now, as far as questions of abuse, but also, above all, how to deal with it within the church are concerned??
Treidler: I think one very important thing would be to enter into an open conversation not only with the victims of abuse, but also among themselves – the bishops, the church leadership, the priests and the religious – in a conversation that is not a priori determined in the direction, but is democratic in the best sense. So that one not only listens to the people, but also hears the voice of the people, which, as far as I know, is much more authoritative here than what is said from the church leaderships here. It's about a really open atmosphere.
I would also like to point out explicitly that the – what one has also seen in connection with Father Wucherpfennig – tone of denunciation is something that stifles all these questions. This absolutely has to be cleared up. If there are such people who are good at denunciation, then these people should be hauled out and prosecuted for it.
Interviewer: How could we see what is serious and what is really such a reversal of old misconduct??
Treidler: I think one important thing would be to work on these things not only within the church, but – as is also suggested – with public authorities. And that one also – I say this consciously, especially since I also experienced this myself and still experience it today – takes care of the peculiar shame that still surrounds those affected.
One is somehow damaged and one remains damaged. One is not a case, but one has an individual fate. This must have room and also be brought up for discussion. Even if this may question the foundations of church doctrine.
Interviewer: You know what you are talking about. You yourself are a person concerned. Have you personally felt anything about this supposedly new way of dealing with abuse and coming to terms with abuse in the Catholic Church??
Treidler: I got to know the Austrian Abuse Commission a little bit. I felt that this was a good step. However, I have also experienced how this slowly fell asleep over the course of a reappraisal, and people were somehow glad to have gotten over it halfway.
I think it is also something that I experience in myself. Time is running out and you get tired of it from time to time and you don't want to have all these things reheated again. You also have to look that you somehow come clean with yourself. That is certainly also a problem, because it brings back a situation that one has lived through. Nobody helped you back then – except your own strength. And that somehow sticks with you in these questions.
The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.