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Germany: Catholic priest jailed for abusing girls

February 25, 2022

A priest who abused children and adolescents over many years has been handed a 12-year jail sentence by a Cologne court. The archdiocese where he worked has denied any responsibility.

The accused wearing a red hood at his trial, accompanied by a policeman
The Catholic Church has been facing a wave of abuse allegations against many priestsImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

A  court in the western German city of Cologne on Friday convicted a Catholic priest of sexually abusing children in cases spanning many years, sentencing him to 12 years in prison.

The priest was also ordered to pay three co-plaintiffs in the cases damages totaling €50,000 ($56,000).

The conviction comes as the German Catholic Church is under intense scrutiny after revelations of decades of sexual abuse of children and misconduct toward minors by church employees, including in the Cologne Archdiocese. 

A cross in the fog
The church is seen by many to have abused its position of power by covering up abuse by priestsImage: Geoff Swaine/picture alliance/Photoshot

What was the priest convicted of?

The 70-year-old priest faced an original indictment alleging 118 cases of abuse, with the youngest victim a 9-year-old girl.

Other victims came forward over the course of the trial, which led to the charges being extended. The priest was also remanded in custody because the court saw a danger that he would reoffend.

One victim was a girl who complained of homesickness at a holiday camp and another a girl to whom he was supposedly giving anger therapy.

The priest forced his victims to engage in a number of sexual acts, including intercourse.

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How have church authorities acted?

The Cologne Archdiocese came under criticism during the trial after it became apparent that the priest had repeatedly been allowed to be alone with children even though leading members were seemingly made aware of allegations and rumors surrounding his behavior.

An initial investigation into the allegations was shelved because the priest's nieces withdrew testimony against him. The archdiocese paid the priest's legal fees for that probe.  

During the present trial, archdiocese officials denied any responsibility for the abuse.

"We have acted consistently," said Stefan Hesse, the archbishop of Hamburg and former head of personnel in Cologne, in his testimony.

The Catholic Church: Power and abuse of power?

tj/msh (AP, AFP)