Freiburg (dpa) – The former Archbishop of Freiburg and chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Robert Zollitsch, has admitted misconduct in dealing with allegations of abuse. In a ten-minute video he published himself on Thursday, the 84-year-old apologized and said: “I made serious mistakes with my behavior and actions, documentation and decisions at the time and misjudged the dangers – including renewed abuse.” This refers both to his time as a personnel officer and to his years as Archbishop of Freiburg.
“For a long, too long time, my attitude and my actions were guided far too much by the well-being of the Catholic Church and far too little by sympathy for the suffering of those affected and caring for the victims,” explained Zollitsch. He was “too naive, too innocent” and believed the perpetrators’ promises.
He regrets this with all his heart and asks forgiveness of those affected. “I know I can’t wait for you to accept my apology.” He asked the Catholics for “forgiveness for the damage I have done to our church through my actions”. It pains him that he has contributed in such a way that people have to be ashamed of their church. “Yes, I made serious mistakes.”
Compared to other admissions of guilt by German bishops, these formulations are strikingly clear and extensive.
In his statement, Zollitsch pointed out that after 2010, as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, he helped initiate the first steps to deal with the abuse scandal. At that time, a “culture of silence and secrecy towards the outside world, of esprit de corps and self-protection” prevailed in the church.
A report on how to deal with sexual abuse was originally supposed to be published in Freiburg on October 25. In September, however, it had been postponed to next April. The Archdiocese justified this with the need for further legal protection in data protection as well as personal and press rights.
The report is created by the so-called AG Aktenanalyse. Four external experts from the judiciary and criminal police are investigating, among other things, which structures have made cover-up and abuse possible in the past. The affected advisory board in the Archdiocese of Freiburg had described the postponement of the report as a “hard setback”. There have already been similar reports in other dioceses, for example in Cologne and Munich.
Zollitsch headed the bishops’ conference for six years, from 2008 to 2014, and was thus the face and voice of the Catholic Church in Germany during this time. He had been Archbishop of Freiburg since 2003 and, from 1983 to 2003, Personnel Officer in the Archbishop’s Ordinariate. In 2014 he retired. The Archdiocese of Freiburg is one of the largest Catholic dioceses in Germany.
© dpa-infocom, dpa:221006-99-25915/4