16 May 2024, The Tablet

Successive bishops covered up abuse in German diocese

The late Fr Edmund Dillinger was “power-obsessed, self-centered, narcissistic and egotistical”, according to investigators.

Successive bishops covered up abuse in German diocese

The Diocese of Trier, in the region bordering Luxembourg, was historically one of the most important sees in the Holy Roman Empire.
Wikimedia Commons

An independent sexual abuse inquiry in the Diocese of Trier concluded that successive bishops covered up the actions of a notorious abuser priest for decades.

Local prosecutors in the region, next to the Luxembourg border, also did little to punish the late Fr Edmund Dillinger, who the inquiry said had abused 19 people from 1961 until 2018.

In addition, he possessed “very many people” photographed in sexual scenes or “exposed to touchings in all areas of the body”, the report by two retired senior prosecutors said.

The diocese reported Dillinger to the police in 2012 and barred him from celebrating Mass in public and contacting youths.

“It is hard to understand that someone like Dillinger could remain in Church service for decades, despite all the knowledge about his transgressions and acts of abuse,” the report said. 

“He lived out his (homo)sexuality, which he outwardly strongly disapproved of, uninhibitedly and in a way that was sometimes criminally relevant and appeared power-obsessed, self-centered, narcissistic and egotistical.”

When the priest died in 2022, a nephew found thousands of compromising photos and indications of abuse of minors among his papers. He presented them to the authorities, but judicial officials in the state capital Saarbrücken destroyed thousands of the pictures last year, prompting the report to say they “largely thwarted this review”.   

The report said Bishop Stephan Ackermann, appointed in 2009, took a tough line on Dillinger but also made some decisions that indirectly aided him. Ackermann was the German bishops’ conference spokesman for abuse issues from 2010 to 2022.

“Only in 2012 did one begin to correct the situation as far as one could,” Gerhard Robbers, one of the two report’s authors, said.

The report did not name Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who has admitted to co-responsibility in the German Church’s abuse scandal while he was Bishop Trier from 2002 to 2008. 

Marx, whose 2021 offer to resign was rejected by Pope Francis, has expressed regret at following looser disclosure guidelines and turned down Germany’s Order of Merit award because of this.   

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, the current president of the bishops’ conference, was vicar-general in Trier from 2012 to 2016.

Trier was historically one of the most powerful dioceses in the Holy Roman Empire, but after Napoleon annexed the left bank of the Rhine in 1801 he had its boundaries redrawn. This smaller diocese was eventually made a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Cologne. 

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