A report claiming that between the end of World War II and the early 1990’s over 231 boys and young men who were part of the world-famous Regensburg Cathedral Choir School were physically or sexually abused has tarnished the reputation of Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, the older brother of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and provided one more humiliation to the former pontiff. Monsignor Ratzinger served as the Director of the Choir from 1964 until 1994.
The Domspatzen (Cathedral Sparrows) are perhaps the oldest surviving choir in Europe. Founded by the reformist bishop Wolfgang von Regensburg in the year 975, the choir has an unbroken tradition of providing the finest of traditional Catholic music for the Cathedral services. In the years of the Lutheran Reformation Regensburg was a bastion of Catholic orthodoxy. In the years immediately before World War II, choir director Father Theobald Schrems borrowed from the British model of choir schools and restructured the choral program at the Cathedral to establish a private boarding school for boys ages 10-19 that would give them a music-focused education while the students, as part of their curriculum, would provide music for the round of Cathedral services. Under Monsignor Ratzinger’s direction, the choir developed in proficiency, established its reputation as a concert choir as well as a liturgical choir, and became well known throughout musical circles as one of the principle choir-schools in the world. When Monsignor Ratzinger retired in 1994 Roland Büchner was named Domkapellmeister (Cathedral Music Director—German is such a fun language), the first layman to hold the position. As the survey concludes during the administration of Monsignor Ratzinger, he gets most of the blame for have allowed the situation to take place. It should be noted that most of the claims are of physical abuse rather than specifically sexual abuse and while Monsignor Ratzinger admits to—and has apologized for—having known about the physical abuse he claims that he was ignorant of any sexual misconduct by the two individuals named in the charges. Neither of these two individuals is still living. There are some reports of other perpetrators and their status is not known.
It seems that we will never get to the end of this dark tunnel of abuse being leveled against priests, brothers, nuns, and others who work, or who have worked, in Catholic institutions. Not only in the United States but through much of the world significant steps have been taken to establish guidelines to protect minors and other vulnerable people from this point forward, but the past seems to hold innumerable cases that have to come to light. Of course the Catholic Church is not the only organization with its dirty little secrets but given the high moral standards which we preach we are all the more vulnerable for the hypocrisy of when we have failed to meet them. Of course this is far more than a matter of “sin.” It reveals a profound sickness in our society that needs to be brought out into the light. In particular we need honest and frank discussions about the abuse of power and authority as well as about human sexuality. We will never be able to truly make people safe in their churches, schools, scouts, athletic teams, and—first and foremost—families until we stop lying to ourselves that this is someone else’s problem and it doesn’t affect me or my loved ones.
On a more cheery note, Saint Wolfgang of Regensburg who established the choir over a thousand years ago was a reformist bishop, closely tied to the Emperor Otto II who was responsible for Church reformation in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. Saint Wolfgang set very high standards for the monasteries and convents of his diocese and was rigorous in enforcing them. We need more reforming prelates today that can take the same ideals and energetically lead the Church in a new direction for a new millennium.