Catholic priest admits sexual abuse at Berlin school | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.01.2010
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Catholic priest admits sexual abuse at Berlin school

A former teacher at a Catholic school in Berlin has admitted to sexually abusing pupils in the 1970s and 1980s. The school's director has strongly criticised the church for turning a blind eye and warns of new cases.

Canisius school in Berlin with snow-covered roof

Canisius College was a crime scene, its director says

Police are investigating allegations that teachers at an elite private school in Berlin sexually abused pupils during the late 1970s and early 1980s. One suspect has admitted to his guilt in an open letter to the news magazine Spiegel.

Five former students, all male, at the Jesuit Canisius College had initially notified the institution's director, Klaus Mertes, of the abuse.

Two teachers - both Jesuit priests who no longer work at the school - had been identified by their accusers, who would have been aged 13-17 at the time, Mertes said.

One of the men accused, a former sports teacher has already admitted to the abuse according to news magazine Spiegel. According to the magazine, he had written an open letter to be published apologizing to his victims, which stated that he had abused children and teenagers for many years.

"I am sorry for what I have done to you. If you are able to forgive me for this, I ask you to do so," he wrote

The second suspect - a former religious studies teacher - reportedly denied the charges.

'Danger of new instances'

The original accusations prompted Mertes to send a letter to 500 alumni, encouraging them to write in about their own experiences at the time. Replies from ex-students continued to arrive, he said, with the number of people claiming to have been abused reaching 20 by Friday.

An elderlery man luring a child on a playground

Child abuse is not just an issue for the churches

In the newspaper Tagesspiegel am Sonntag, Mertes said the Catholic Church had to take measures to make sure such abuse did not happen again.

"Although the now well-known abuse happened a long time ago, the danger of new instances of abuse could not be ruled out,” he said.

Mertes added that the church's attitude to homosexuality was not helpful. "The church suffers from homophobia," he said.

"Homosexuality is hidden. Clerics with this inclination are not sure that they will be accepted if they are honest about their sexuality.”

It was unsurprising that the revelations came so late, Mertes had said on Friday.

"Everyone who has dealt with sexual abuse cases knows very well that there's a lot of shame and pain involved on the part of the victims," Mertes told reporters.

"And it often takes many decades until those affected are able to get their trauma under control and are willing to speak about it openly."

He said that the scandal could not have remained undetected at the time, had a number of people in responsible positions not looked the other way.

Most of the cases would likely be difficult to prosecute because German law limits the statute of limitations on sexual abuse to 10 years after the victim has turned 18, Mertes said.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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