Report from Germany Likely Undercounts Scope of Catholic Order Abuse

recently published study released by German religious orders is a baby step towards transparency, and nothing more.

Thanks to secular investigations in multiple countries, including Australia, Ireland, Guam, and the United States, we know clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is widespread and consistent from country to country. More importantly, we know that there is a "playbook" that involves, among other things, undercounting cases of abuse or splitting hairs to minimize the apparent number of incidents. We believe we can see that playbook at work in this German study.

The purported 654 religious order abusers, about 2 per order, is an unbelievably low number. The Jesuits in the United States, for example, have acknowledged over 300 perpetrators. Given that religious order priests are transferred all over the world, it is hard to believe that the disparity would be so extreme.

In other words, if Australia reported an abuse rate of 7% of all priests, we would expect the rate to be similar in Germany. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, a grand jury report found an average of nine victims per priest, which would mean many thousand more victims than the 1412 this report claims are silent and suffering. Moreover, in Ireland, Australia, and in US diocesesan bankruptcy cases, we have seen up to 20% of the accused are lay personnel and nuns. 

Extrapolating from data gleaned in places like Australia and the US would suggest up to 8,000 German Catholic clergymen have abused children, not the 2,400 acknowledged by Church officials. Following this line of thought, we believe the data from German female religious orders, where only about 25% of the surveyed orders acknowledged abuse, surely means victims of nuns are seriously undercounted. It is highly likely that each and every order, male and female, has abusers in its ranks. The data from overwhelming numbers of studies and investigations from other countries would support that conclusion

Most importantly, a German Catholic prelate has admitted that sexual abuse files have been destroyed or were never made. It is likely that the same behavior occurred in the religious orders, also contributing to the undercount.

The German government and the German Catholic Church are inextricably linked - the Church receives federal tax revenues from German citizens. For that reason alone, the people of Germany are owed a secular investigation that audits this study as well as the previous diocesan study.

At an average of nine victims per abuser, it is likely that as many as 6,000 children have been abused in German religious orders. A significant compensation and outreach plan must be initiated in Germany to support those victims. In the US, ChildUSA estimates that each individual abuse case by Catholic clergy carries a societal cost of about 750,000 Euros per victim. With as many as 90,000 total victims, the cost to German society for Catholic child sexual abuse is already approaching 71 billion Euros. 

Clearly, this is a problem that must be addressed by secular society and must be addressed soon.

CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected])

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

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