After being accused of bearing “clear responsibility” for the mishandling of over 500 abuse cases in a Bavarian choir school, Cardinal Müller admits that he feels “shame” but emphasises that he did all that was possible.
Published on Monday (17 July), a report states that 547 boys were abused at a prestigious choir school in Regensburg, Bavaria, between the years 1945 and 1992.
In the report, commissioned by the diocese of Regensburg and compiled by the lawyer Ulrich Weber, Cardinal Müller is accused of having mishandled the cases of abuse, despite them being well known.
In an interview with the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, bishop of Regensburg form 2002 to 2012 and ex-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, admits that he “experienced shame for what has happened in the Church” but emphasises “everything that was possible and necessary was done.”
He defended himself by saying that what happened “took place fifty years before his mandate as bishop” began and went on to say that he too set-up an investigation whilst bishop and that he “never defended the institution [the choir school].”
However, the German government’s abuse commissioner, Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, who called on Müller to apologise immediately after the report was published, has since told the press in Berlin on 20 July how sorry he was that Cardinal Gerhard Müller had once again “missed the chance” to react with empathy and compassion regarding the Domsaptzen choir abuse.
Rörig said he had missed a “sign of appreciation and recognition” on Müller’s part for those who had made it possible - “after years of struggle” - for a proper investigation of the Domspatzen abuse to take a positive turn. Such a sign would have been encouraging for everyone in the Catholic Church. He had the impression that Cardinal Müller was “very much on the defensive” and hoped this would not once again burden the victims, he said.
Müller immediately replied that he saw no reason for an apology. After 40 to 50 years during which “nothing happened” about the Regensburg abuse, it was he who had initiated the investigations in 2010, he told the Passauer Neue Presse on 20 July. Rörig should apologise for the “false statements and false information” - namely that he – Müller- had delayed the investigations, which was “diametrically opposed” to the truth, Müller underlined.
This is not the first time Müller has been criticised for his response, back in January 2016 a former lay official of the diocese of Regensburg, Fritz Wallner, accused Cardinal Müller of preventing “the truth from being unveiled” about the abuses cases being reported.
In 2007, Müller faced scrutiny and criticism after he chose to re-install a priest who had been found guilty of 22 accounts of abuse. His justification for his decision was that he believed the priest had been “healed.”
The re-instalment of the priest not only caused a scandal amongst the Catholics of Regensburg, but was also in clear defiance of the rules of the German Episcopal Conference which disallow any clergymen sentenced for abuse to ever again work with children or young people.
In the interview published on 19 July, however, Müller maintains that he’s always had a “line of zero tolerance” on cases of abuse of minors.
He further added that he’s “always believed that mercy in the Church is not possible without true justice,” one that is “impartial and fair.”
However, Weber accuses Müller of irresponsiveness and demands he take responsibility.
In the interview with the Italian daily, Müller also speaks about the second key figure involved in the Regensburg case: the brother of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Georg Ratzinger, who was choirmaster at the school between 1964 and 1994.
Weber’s report states that Ratzinger shared “co-responsibility” for the abuses that took place during his tenure.
However, Müller defends the brother of the Pope Emeritus saying that he “is convinced that he [Fr. Ratzinger] knew nothing.”
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, who was asked by Pope Francis to be a part of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that the report was a “courageous step forward…on an issue that has been looming for many years.”
Fr Zollner, in a different interview, said that the decision taken by Rudolf Voderholzer, the current bishop of Regensburg, was right and that “the truth will set you free.”
PICTURE: Cardinal Müller in Vatican City