“Neither new nor justified”

President of the German Bishops' Conference Zollitsch has admitted mistakes in dealing with sexual abuse. In the concrete case it was about a priest who is said to have abused children and teenagers in Oberharmersbach. However, according to diocesan sources, there can be no question of a cover-up.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg firmly rejects renewed cover-up allegations by "Report Mainz" against Archbishop Robert Zollitsch. "These accusations are neither new nor justified," explained the spokesman for the archdiocese, Robert Eberle, on Sunday to the Catholic News Agency (KNA). It is about abuse cases in the Black Forest village of Oberharmersbach from the time when Zollitsch was personnel officer in the archdiocese. As SWR announced in advance on Sunday, the ARD political magazine wants to present on Monday evening, among other things, two letters signed by Zollitsch, which are supposed to prove that he had not contributed enough to consistently clear up the cases and inform the affected communities accordingly.

"One wanted to prevent a scandal" According to research by the SWR political magazine, Zollitsch knew in detail about at least one case of abuse as early as 1992. He was informed by a priest who is still active today, SWR reported. "I think it was covered up, plain and simple," said the pastor, whose nephew was among the victims. "One wanted to prevent a scandal on the back of the weakest ones.

"Multiple public regret Zollitsch has already spoken out about the case several times and has always made it clear "that those responsible at the time were not trying to cover up anything," his spokesman Eberle emphasized. These would have tried to limit the damage and prevent sexual abuse. Therefore Zollitsch had asked victims and their relatives – also in a personal conversation – for forgiveness. In addition, the archbishop has also publicly regretted several times that those responsible in the Freiburg ordinariate did not act more consistently at the time. Eberle also referred to an interview published on Sunday by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" newspaper. In it, Zollitsch, who is also chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, had said, among other things, verbatim: "Today we know better. We have learned".

Starting from wrong considerations The abuse cases of Oberharmersbach "lie heavy on my soul to this day," Zollitsch also admitted in the interview. How deep the wounds were that the priest had inflicted on the victims and their families decades ago, he said, had recently become even more clear to him during a conversation with affected persons. "I take a very self-critical view of the decisions we made at the time!", the archbishop stressed. In addition, he said verbatim: "At that time we started from – from today's point of view – wrong considerations."The accused priest worked from 1968 to 1991 in the Black Forest village of Oberharmersbach, about 70 kilometers from Freiburg, and abused numerous children during that time. After initial rumors about this, the priest, who also suffered from serious health problems, was retired early in 1991. In 1995 he took his own life. Previously, he had been confronted again with the accusations – after a victims' aid organization and another victim had come forward. The archdiocese had also signaled to him at the time that it would support the activities of the prosecutor's office. After the death of the priest, the archdiocese had called on all victims and relatives to come forward and offered them help and therapeutic support. At that time 17 victims had come forward, in the meantime five more were known. But the actual number is certainly higher, says Zollitsch.

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