Brutality behind the choir school’s fame

Brutal clerical abuse at Germany’s prestigious Regensburger Domspatzen choir school was not a consequence of the pedagogy practised since the Church’s 1968 reform movement – despite emeritus Pope Benedict’s view to the contrary.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg has vowed to intensify “preventive measures” after two research reports found “extensive, violent” abuse at the choir school, particularly the Junior school, spanned several decades, from 1945 to 1992.

For 30 years during this time, the famous choir was run by Msgr Georg Ratzinger, Benedict’s brother.

“The goal [of the reports], using methods and mechanisms of social psychology, was to identify factors which encouraged these cases,” Voderholzer says.

“The foremost aim now is to ensure justice and satisfaction to all those who were allowed to suffer, to demonstrate our sorrow and learn for the sake of future generations.”

Bernhard Löffler, the historian from Regensburg University responsible for the first of two studies, says there was a “system of violence” at the school.

The Church, the children’s parents and the Ministry of Culture contributed to this, Löffler says.

He also says Georg Ratzinger, the emeritus Pope’s brother, must have known about the violent beatings the boys were subject to.

Ratzinger, who was choirmaster from 1964 to 1994, had played an “ambivalent” role, Löffler says.

During choir practices he was known for his “violent temper, including corporal punishment and psychological humiliation”, but after choir practice was over, he had shown himself ready to listen to the boys’ worries.

In the second study, Martin Rettenberger from the Wiesbaden Criminological Institute says choir school could not be controlled from outside, as it had its own “sealed off social system” and had developed its own “moral standards”.

The choir’s success was seen as being more important than the boys’ well-being, and was worst in the junior school, he says.

Voderholzer says despite the pain the shattering abuse has caused its victims, “only the truth will set us free”.

He says 547 abused choirboys were the victims of 49 perpetrators, nine of whom were sexual abusers.

Among the 49 were headmasters of both the boarding school and the choir school, prefects and teachers.

To date the diocese has paid victims a total of 3,785,000 euros in compensation. Individual victims had received between 2,500 euros and 25,000 euros.


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