An influential German cardinal failed for decades to respond effectively to sexual abuse in his diocese, according to a study released Friday.
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, considered one of Germany’s leading churchmen until his death in 2018, was heavily criticized in the report on the handling of abuse cases in the Diocese of Mainz issued March 3.
Lehmann, who served as president of the German bishops’ conference for 20 years, led the diocese in west-central Germany, which serves around 667,000 Catholics, from 1983 to 2016.
The more than 1,000-page report, known as the EVV study, also highlighted the failures of Lehmann’s predecessors, Bishop Albert Stohr (who oversaw the diocese from 1935 to 1961) and Cardinal Hermann Volk (1962-1982).
The study’s authors said they initially identified 657 possible victims and 392 suspected perpetrators in the diocese from 1945 to 2019. After considering questions of “responsibility, facts, and plausibility,” they concluded that 401 victims and 181 suspects remained for further investigation.
Responding to the report, Mainz’s current Bishop Peter Kohlgraf said: “During the time of Cardinal Lehmann, Cardinal Volk, and before that, there were major misconduct and omissions in the diocese in many places. It is important that this becomes public today with the EVV study.”
While noting that Stohr, Volk, and Lehmann had merits, Kohlgraf said that “for them, the protection of perpetrators and the Church was more important than the plight of those affected, even if there were different phases of dealing with them during Cardinal Lehmann’s term of office.”
The study divides Lehmann’s tenure in Mainz into three parts. It says that the first, from 1983 to 2001, was marked by “deflecting and dissembling.” The second, from 2002 to 2009, was characterized by “excuses and defending.” Only the third, from 2010 to 2017, involved “admitting and tackling” the problem.
Presenting the study at a press conference in Mainz, lawyer Ulrich Weber said that Lehmann’s public statements contrasted with his actions.
“He has never fulfilled his own claim formulated in his own words for dealing with sexual violence in the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Mainz,” Weber said.
Lehmann is remembered for his role in an extended dispute with the Vatican over the German Church’s participation in a controversial pregnancy counseling system, which ended in 1999 following the intervention of Pope John Paul II.
A strong advocate of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and a noted ecumenist, Lehmann was said to have attended meetings of the St. Gallen Group, which met regularly in Switzerland to discuss liberalizing Church reforms. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2001.
The EVV study concluded that the Diocese of Mainz as a whole bore “responsibility for a great deal of suffering” among abuse survivors.
“Pastors, educators, and other full-time or voluntary employees committed the crimes,” it said. “Long-term inappropriate handling by the diocesan leadership has meant that allegations have not been clarified, the accused have not been sanctioned, further acts have not been prevented, and those affected have not been supported.”
Mainz is the latest German diocese to face a detailed reckoning of its handling of historical abuse cases. Others include the Archdiocese of Cologne, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, the Diocese of Münster, the Diocese of Osnabrück, and the Diocese of Essen.
The Archdiocese of Freiburg archdiocese is expected to release an abuse study on April 18.
Several senior German churchmen have offered their resignations to Pope Francis in recent years, often following criticism of their handling of abuse cases. They include Hamburg’s Archbishop Stefan Heße, Cologne’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The pope has not accepted the resignations.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, the deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference, announced last September that he would not be submitting his resignation to the pope despite a damning interim report on the handling of abuse cases in his Diocese of Osnabrück.