It was supposed to provide a great deal of enlightenment on the Catholic Church's abuse scandal. But now, researchers and bishops are parting ways after a bitter disagreement over a report on the affair.
The goal was clear: the abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church to its core since the beginning of 2010, was supposed to be addressed seamlessly. The church leadership wanted to investigate the abuse cases in detail in which priests and others abused young people - going back as far as 1945. To carry out the study seriously and objectively, the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) brought in the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN). The scientists from Hanover were to be granted access to all personnel records of the past decade in all 27 dioceses.
But there is now disagreement between the KFN and the DBK. The bishops canceled the contracts with the Institute. "The trust was shattered," official sources said. It was impossible to think of continuing this work. On the other hand, KFN head Christian Pfeiffer spoke of censorship and the hindrance of his work: "The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising clearly demanded that all texts must be submitted to them for approval, and they made it clear to us that they also had the right to prohibit the publication of texts, " Pfeiffer told German public radio.
"We did not restrict the freedom of research"
Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German Bishops' Conference, rejected these accusations in an interview with DW: "I would like to defend myself against the suggestion that we had restricted the freedom of research. The opposite is true - because the Catholic Church is ready to undertake a research project of this kind, it shows how much freedom of research means to it."
But Pfeiffer went even further in his criticism. He spoke of the destruction of records on the part of the Church, of which he knew nothing. "They have a requirement that you have to destroy the papers 10 years after the conviction of a priest. They kept us in the dark about this, because we agreed in the contract to an analysis of records going back to 1945." But under these conditions, this was no longer feasible if the documents would be destroyed every 10 years, Pfeiffer said.
Kopp also rejected this accusation: "There has been, to our knowledge, no destruction of documents. A major problem was data protection regulations. It was important to us to clarify how we would be able to anonymize data and keep it safe." This was a statement that, to critics, sounded like a pretext.
Approval of texts prior to publication?
Unlike the original agreement in the contract, Pfeiffer said, the Church demanded to see texts before publication: "There was suddenly a lack of confidence that these things could then also be presented publicly." Some had clearly not wanted the abuse cases to be solved, fearing damage to the church, he said.
After the decades-long series of abuses, it was made public in 2010 that the Catholic Church had announced a comprehensive assessment of the cases. The first suspected cases came to light three years ago at the Canisius Jesuit college in Berlin.
More became known in the following weeks in, among other places, the Upper Bavarian Ettal Monastery and the Regensburg cathedral choir. Some sexual assaults had happened recently, but some went back more than 60 years. Many cases were barred by the statute of limitations. The 2011 research project with the KFN was intended to be an important stepping stone towards understanding what happened.
Further damage to image
Experts see the temporary end of the academic study as a new image problem for the Catholic Church and expect even more people to leave the church. Spokesman Matthias Kopp tried to made clear that the project was not a failure: "We have not given up on our research project. It will continue. Of course, we are now looking for a new partner."
Pfeiffer wants to continue the work he started - without the help of the church. "We are trying to save what can be saved, by asking all victims nationwide to voluntarily contact us, so that we can pass on to them the anonymous questionnaire, which they can return to us." The first results of the study were supposed to be published in 2014. It now seems more than questionable as to when, and whether, there will be any findings at all.