Ein strange feeling has existed for a long time. When the faithful came to the service in the back of St. Stephen’s on weekdays and sat in the choir stalls, the pastor stood on a tombstone. No bishop or cardinal rested here, but Mr. H. The former parish priest of Mainz-Gonsenheim was still being talked about, even 40 years after his death: he is said to have acted in a self-important manner, slapped children in the face, which was also accompanied by occasional touches of generosity towards acolytes was not really mitigated.
And there were hints that H. should have been guilty. In 2020, the pastor of the parish at the time, Hans-Peter Weindorf, received confirmation from the diocese that there were allegations of abuse against H. and that payments had been made to the victims. Weindorf had a carpet laid on the grave. “It wasn’t about sweeping something under the carpet,” Weindorf told the diocese newspaper “Glaube und Leben”. “It was about taking this honor from him.” The commemoration that H. wanted so much, according to Weindorf, should first be taken from him. Forgotten as punishment.
How to deal with the commemoration of clergymen accused of abuse is an unresolved problem in the Catholic Church. The debate is still in its infancy. There are no guidelines or recommendations from the German Bishops’ Conference. It is about graves of former priests like in Mainz-Gonsenheim, about burial places of former bishops who covered up the abuse, and about places that were named after them. And sometimes songs that everyone in the church knows and sings that were written by alleged abusers. The church hit “Laudato si” is such a song.
Undetermined depths of church history
The Salzburg fundamental theologian Gregor Maria Hoff points out one thing: “Before we can really remember, there must be a consequent processing and acknowledgment of the suffering at the beginning.” Statements of responsible persons in the church. “It takes systemic changes in the way church power lives,” says Hoff. It is necessary to determine guilt and to take responsibility. “Otherwise, the abuse is hastily pushed onto the temporal side of what has been settled, which lies behind us.” Remembrance is necessary, but for the time being it can only take the form of measures, in aesthetic interventions and actions.
For Hoff, the abuse crisis is one of the most radical turning points in church history, “because here epistemic trust is fundamentally in question, i.e. the creditworthiness of the church and its bishops”. There is a systemic problem that has so far only been able to be addressed with reliable material for a limited period of time. But it is not just about a story that has been going on since around 1946. “The horror scenario leads much further into the indefinite depths of church history.”
One diocese after the other recently published studies on the process of reappraisal. In March it was Mainz’s turn. One of the alleged perpetrators: Pastor H. The allegations of two people, which were examined by a lawyer on behalf of the diocese, are part of the investigation. In a 31-page letter that was published during the presentation of the study, a former acolyte of H. describes his martyrdom, how he went from a communion child to a favorite acolyte, how H. chose him to become a pastor himself one day – and emotionally as well as physically abused.