Bernhard – Abuse by a priest and emotional dependence

 

Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13:8

 

A father may do anything except lust for his child

I have decided not to exempt my own story from the demand for unconditional transparency; I will tell it even if it hurts me and others, if I lose friends in the process and make myself vulnerable. It is the story of a homosexual assault, a violation that wounded me deeply. Certainly, there are victims of abuse who have fared far worse than I have. But it might be helpful if people who are now talking about sexual morality and abuse could experience in concrete terms what it is like when the familiarity of a child’s world is shattered, and what someone has to do to make their world, which has come apart at the seams, inhabitable again.

When it happened to me, I experienced a Church that was unable to protect me and that later – when things came to light – was unable to grasp what had happened to me. The fact that I am still in the Catholic Church today, that I love it and do not consider it to be the abyss of evil in the world, seems almost like a miracle to me. I have once again consciously chosen the Catholic Church through faith, although I perhaps know its abysses better than most. The Church that has been so unimaginably sullied and disfigured before the eyes of the world, is “my Church”. God willing, I will remain faithful to it, whatever mudslides may still roll over it.

The abuse by a homosexual priest that I experienced as a teenager had terrible life-historical consequences for me. A lot of china was smashed, not only in my own biography, but also in my social environment and in the souls of people I loved and love. I now avoid referring to myself as a “victim” because I don’t need the rhetoric of pity and because I find it increasingly unbearable how the word “victim” is used to lend force to completely different interests. Being affected myself, my wish is very simple: that perpetrators be removed from office and that reliable precautions be taken to ensure that the character profile I am about to describe is kept permanently and safely away from the priesthood. Nothing more.

My story – my journey

(to clarify: priest and pastor are different terms for one and the same person in the Catholic world)
I was born in a small village on the Rhine, where in the 60’s of the last century the Catholic world was apparently still in order. Like many other boys, I was an altar boy and was allowed to play a small role in the opulent liturgical ceremonies of my parish. In primary school there were Catholic teachers who actually managed to gather the children in classes in broad daylight on Wednesday afternoons for the children’s rosary in church. We had to kneel. Since I had a beautiful voice as a child, I was allowed to sing “Requiem” (1) in the boys’ schola early on weekdays. We cut mountains of grass for the Corpus Christi procession, put up flags, decorated the altars with flowers, and played chorales in the church music. But the ideal world had cracks. Since Sunday Mass was not enough, we were required to attend afternoon services as well, for which we had to pass by the local cinema. There, our friends from less pious homes stood waiting for “Return of the Lash” to begin, jeering at us as we went off to church, dressed in our Sunday Best, our hymnals in hand.

Childhood and parental home

The parental home, a working-class household with a part-time farm that overtaxed everyone involved, was problematic. My father had been traumatised by the war. All but a child, he had been made a soldier; as a Flak Helfer he survived the Hamburg firestorm and then, as a prisoner of war, a detention camp in France. When he returned home, he would probably have needed psychotherapy, but he was helped instead – as was the custom at the time – into a marriage. At least the first half of the marriage was marked by my father’s choleric outbursts and violence, which were mainly directed at me, the eldest of four children. Today, I think I know the reason. Before I was born, my mother had a stillborn child. Now I was her first child, whom she adored accordingly and probably preferred to my crude, psychologically tormented father. It was probably sheer jealousy that caused me to feel my father’s heavy hand again and again as a child. The brutalities towards the beloved first child deepened the rift between the couple. My mother obviously hadn’t had good experiences with sexuality either, as was evident from various derogatory remarks and gestures. For her, the ideal man was the supposedly asexual priest. Becoming such a man was probably her lifelong dream for me, her eldest son. However, my school career did not give me any reason to hope for this; after the second failed grade, my father took the introverted, total loser of an adolescent he called me out of school and put him into an apprenticeship: “If you’re no good at school, you’ll just have to go to work …”. This did nothing to alleviate the conflict between father and son, and my father’s violence reached dangerous dimensions. Finally, my mother thought she had found a solution: The boy had to get out of the house! Only 15 years old, she deposited me at the gate of the local rectory. The priest was so accommodating as to take me into his care, without complications and free of charge. I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite the horrendous things that were soon to happen, I only very rarely went home. My mother had no idea that the vicarage door would become my door to purgatory.
At first, I felt like I was in paradise. I experienced an extremely fatherly person who took care of me in every possible way. He bought me decent clothes, took me with him on his travels, shared his plans with me, and let me join in praying the Compline. When the poor, rarely noticed housekeeper had finished serving the gentlemen and disappeared back into the kitchen he taught me how to hold a knife and fork properly at the dining table even how to use a white linen napkin.
The priest had taken part in the war as a seminarian and prided himself on having experienced something of real life (and the apparently dangerous character of women) and having lain in the muck of the trenches, “not like the bureaucrats in the seminary”.
He came from a wealthy family and had the means for a larger car and an upmarket household with some luxury, at least fine wines, and a variety of spirits. These were indulged in extensively, from which I, who had not even started shaving, was not excluded. As a resident of the house, I found myself in a privileged role, but I was not the only boy in the vicar’s circle. His pride and joy was the troop of altar boys who were honed to perfection, especially at religious festivals. The select group of senior altar boys, of which I was one, although I was rather clumsy performing the liturgical tasks, was often invited to dinners and excessive drinking sessions. I still remember one trip out to the surrounding wine country, and especially the drunken state of the driver on the return journey. Singing songs and zigzagging so much it made us teenagers in the back cheer, he swung the limousine into the rectory grounds. We thought it was cool but avoided telling anyone about the nature of these excursions. They were probably meant to show us: being a priest is a great thing – the next step up from being an altar boy, a great adventure for born bosses. Of course, we should all become priests like him. You don’t become a senior altar boy for nothing.

The contrast between the dreary world of a small, beer-guzzling typesetter’s apprentice and the noble ambience of the vicarage could not have been starker. I had hit the jackpot. I had found a father better than I could have imagined, even if I had once again fallen in with a choleric man; he could break out into fits of rage if something did not go his way. Because he himself was a master improviser and would have preferred to be a cathedral organist, the helpless temporary musicians trembled their way through the liturgy on high holidays. Every slip-up they made could escalate into an incident.

The Unthinkable

It was summer and very hot. There was something heavy to carry. I lent a hand, it made me proud to be needed, gave me a feeling of comradely recognition. My priest father and I sat on the edge of a bed, exhausted and sweating, almost touching. Done! Two beer bottles were at hand. The swing tops popped; we quenched our thirst. The priest put his arm around me. He had done that many times before. For some reason I didn’t like it, but now I guess I couldn’t escape it. Suddenly I feel his head against my head, his lips on my neck. I hear his aroused panting, smell his beery breath, feel his tongue, and suddenly – the strong hand groping at the crotch of my trousers …
I don’t remember how I freed myself from the embrace, how I pushed him back and out of the room. I only remember that I locked the bolt on the door and stood in the room trembling for minutes. I still have those convulsions from then engraved in my body’s memory programme. I will never forget what that feels like.

I was clueless, still half a child really, barely in puberty. And I was caught in the net, trapped, I was dependent. Can anyone imagine today that at that time I had no words or concepts to interpret or express what was happening to me? If I had had words for it, I would not have known where to turn. My mother, who adored the priest? My father, with whom I was divided? The police? The former chaplain, a priest of integrity and exemplary character? Yes, to him perhaps – but he was far away. What could I say to him? I had no words for it. Above all, I myself was far away from any form of understanding, from any possibility of getting to what was haunting me. Inside me was simply wordless disgust. It was the moment when something began that would not stop for years: a separation from other people, as if I carried around a kind of mark of Cain (2), a curse by touch. I found myself locked inside myself, dragging around a dark secret, a guilt that I paradoxically blamed myself for instead of freeing myself in anger towards the other. It took 15 years of inner (and more and more, outer) drama coming to a head before I was provoked to leave my monad and speak for the first time.

Long-time Burden

Even much later, I found it difficult. Almost 50 years after it happened, I finally had the courage to seek the guidance of a psychotherapist to carefully look at the wounds of my childhood, the wound of the devastating violation of boundaries, the wound of my stolen youth, and to enter into a process of acceptance and forgiveness. Until then, I had always gruffly dismissed any in-depth questions from my wife, children, and friends about my early years, had destroyed pictures and buried records of that time. I lived half my life with the fiction that this life – my real life – had only begun at 30. With a hardly heroic act of liberation: an escape. Only in psychotherapy did it become clear to me that I despised the child I was, that I still didn’t want to be that child, that I blamed that child for what others had done to him.

I should have left the rectory, stood up to him with the sentence: “I’m leaving you; you touched my genitals!” There was no friendly “you”. Reverend, Sir, I’m leaving! You touched my genitals! What impossible, blasphemous sentences! Someone should have taken me out of there, but that someone did not exist. I stayed, – lived from then on in anticipation, even panic, that what I had no words for and what I split off from myself could repeat itself. Everything had changed. The danger was there, and this terrible fear that accompanied my days and nights! This fear of closeness, of physical contact, of hugs, of sentimental moments when he pulled me close to him, when he became cuddly once again, when the assault could happen again. I should have run away with arms flying, but I stayed, caught in the trap of gratitude. Today I know it was a travesty (3) of the story of the Prodigal Son. The “Father” had done so much good for me, the “prodigal son”; he had accepted me in grace and without any merit of his own, clothed me anew and brought me to the richly laid table. Only it felt so wrong in his arms.

Transfer

After a while I was partially saved from my immediate plight. The priest had to leave the parish because conflicts of a different kind escalated, and his physical and mental health were suffering. He was sent to a small parish in a remote mountainous region of another diocese, right in the middle of nowhere. He soon gathered a handsome band of altar boys around him again. For many years I suspected that the diocesan leadership knew about the priest’s assault and that there was an inter-diocesan agreement to “dispose” of problematic priest biographies. However, investigations revealed that such an agreement did not exist, at least it was not found in the files of the diocese in question. So, the priest left, but not without providing generously for his “son”. Why didn’t he drop me there? I don’t know. I think it was more than a silent agreement. I moved away from my home village about the same time, too. It was 1972. I had completed my apprenticeship as a typesetter with some success. The priest had higher things in mind for me. And this much is true: without him I would probably never have done my “Abitur” (British equivalent: “A” Levels). On his initiative, a boarding school in a religious community was found where I could study for and take my exams, and he paid for my education: Then I could become a priest. I had no real interest in this, but accepted the offer “with thanks”, without realising that I had been bought. The priest kept in close contact. I had to visit him in the holidays, which saddened my parents, but which they accepted as a sacrifice for their son’s “higher calling”. They didn’t know that the visits to my abuser were horror trips for me, which I tried to simply survive. The small village in the mountainous region was idyllic; at night I could hear the whispering of the village well when I was finally alone in my room. Before that, it was a matter of quickly taking my leave from the lower floor (“I’m suddenly so incredibly tired!”), avoiding any extensive wine conversations after Compline at all costs, getting away quickly, silently locking the bedroom door!

Contact with my parents was difficult; I hardly saw them anymore, we only spoke superficially, I couldn’t talk to them about anything deeper. How are you? I’m fine! That was all I could get out. At boarding school, I was now outwardly free, but inwardly stuck in a closed box of loneliness, being pushed through time by higher forces. Outwardly cheerful, in reality I was tightly locked in my secret. No one could get close to me. I was unable to speak openly about how I felt and what was on my mind. I lay in my boarding school room for hours, dozing, daydreaming. When I was with others, I could talk expertly about objective things – about anything that had nothing to do with me personally. If someone had torn the mask from my face, I would have denied everything. I simply couldn’t manage real friendships with undisguised emotional exchange, especially not with people of the male sex. Even twenty years later, when I was running a publishing house, I got stomach cramps when I was alone in a room with a man. Fortunately, that improved later.

Boarding School, exams, and my “sponsor”

Like most boys, during my years at boarding school I dreamed of sex and longed for a girlfriend. But I was destined for something else, to become a priest. And so, the shyness of approaching a girl was mixed with the desire not to betray my “selfless” sponsor. He sent letters with money, and I had to thank him, which was a Herculean psychological task for me, since I had to pretend to have a relationship with him, to feign joy and to express my gratitude. I often received follow-up letters from the boarding school prefect, full of reproaches. Red with shame, I had to read his questions about whether the money had arrived or not, or whether I did not see the need to thank him. It was probably during this time that I secretly became a kind of Pelagian, saying to myself: Never again in my life do I want to have anything given to me. Never again will I fall into the trap of gratitude. I literally hated gratitude – a concept that I unconsciously placed in the context of dependency and blackmail. In relation to God, of course, this is a terrible attitude: how can a person have any relationship at all with God if he cannot say thank you? Even years later, my family would complain: “We can’t give you anything! Why don’t you want people to do anything for you?” In the depths of my soul, “being given a gift” and “having to say thank you” had to do with blackmail.

Older than most, I now graduated from school with ease and did well in my exams. I knew what was expected of me: that I enter the seminary of the diocese. But I didn’t. Probably to get out of my abuser’s clutches, I became a novice in the boarding school’s religious community. In truth, I would rather have fled to California to smoke hashish on the beach and indulge in the pleasures of love with naked hippie girls. Basically, I had very little spiritual practice to speak of: when I prayed, it was mostly superficial. I believed in God somehow, but what kind of God was he?! A God who cruelly claimed my freedom and blocked everything to the right and left of this path from me! Because I couldn’t get away from my money-giver, and because I believed I couldn’t act any other way, I interpreted, crusader-style, the pre-marked path as the “will of God”. The inner motto I followed was: it is God’s will! That’s as sure as eggs is eggs. Full stop. The date for entering the order was fast approaching, but I had hardly even looked at the community and just let myself drift for a few weeks until the letter from the novice master, a fine, ascetic man, startled me: Where was I, no one had heard from me, had I changed my mind? I immediately assured him that everything was fine, packed my bags and boarded the train.

Time as a Novice

I remember kneeling “piously” in the chapel and watching myself pray from the outside. I was one of those students who never caused any problems and was a decent theologian as well. Of course, regular confession was expected. I could never find anything of consequence to say. To the kindly confessor, who was suspicious of this, I must have seemed like some asexual being. There are such people. In truth, I was burning up inside. I cultivated the conflict between obedience and lust, between heroic chastity and forbidden dreams. If the internet had existed back then, I probably would have drowned in pornography. Basically, I did everything to become a split personality, with a tidy, bright exterior and a supressed dark side, in which phenomena of voyeurism and an addictive desire for sex developed.

This deceptive arrangement was shaken when – after having been ordained as a deacon – I fell in love with a girl. I had finally broken away from my abuser, with many twists and turns, by simply not inviting him to the celebration for my ordination, which promptly earned me the reproach that he now realised who I really was: “… one of the Take tribe!” I would take his money, but otherwise I was as cold as ice and completely without gratitude. The latter was not quite true. I was on holiday and extremely grateful: I didn’t have to go to visit him! My brother took me to Taizé, where I met the enchanting S. and my heart caught fire. As chance would have it – or whoever else was directing – she came from the very parish where my abuser was now working, which I was careful not to talk about. We liked each other, loved talking to each other. Not much happened in terms of love, we didn’t even kiss. What followed, however, was an active exchange of letters in which I gradually broached the subject of my conflict between my profession and my love for her. She didn’t want to know anything about it, she spoke instead about things I didn’t want to know: about her pastor who was in emotional distress, who was lonely, who had an alcohol problem, etc. She felt that I simply had to take care of this man so that he would not go to rack and ruin. I refused. I couldn’t do it, she had to understand that. But she didn’t understand, she admonished me more insistently until the whole thing finally escalated: I was a “pig” if I didn’t finally make myself do it.

The next letter to my distant lover cost me incredible strength, because for the first time ever I had to break the seal with which I had locked the abuse inside me. I had to say the unspeakable. I choked it out. There it was, out in the world. S. did not press me for further details, we gradually lost contact. For me, however, it was only the first, unfortunately initially inconsequential beginning. I was ashamed of what had happened, blamed myself for it and did nothing more. Seeking professional help would have been tantamount to admitting my life was a lie. I would have risked the façade collapsing. Not that! I didn’t want to face my reality at that time. Or did I not have the strength? In any case, I did what I shouldn’t have done: I was ordained as a priest. The day of my ordination was not a pleasant day; I had such allergy problems that the family doctor had to give me a cortisone injection so that I could get through it. I didn’t prepare anything, I let the celebrations just pass me by, and improvised my way through the necessary speeches. Everything was correct. But I was not in my element, I could hardly feel myself or to the significance of the sacred acts, I accepted my new duty as if it were a role that I was now being asked to play.

Double Life

It went wrong after less than two years. I was supposed to continue my studies at university, but it tore me apart as a human being. One half of me was a pious priest, the other half a man driven by lust, craving visual stimuli, caresses, and skin contact. I was on the verge of establishing a double life, maybe even of completing the curse and becoming an abused abuser. When I met my wife, I realized I couldn’t continue to exist in this dichotomy without destroying myself and others. I couldn’t even let myself be pushed anywhere anymore, a habit I had acquired over the years of pain. I had to make a decision, had to start doing something about gaining “freedom”, a word I had not yet developed a relationship with. So, I took leave of absence and did not return from there to my old world – a world in which I left behind terrible shards (which I still regret today). I did what I never imagined I could do: I applied for laicisation, burnt all my bridges.

Coming to Terms with the Past

Abuse was not taken very seriously in the mid-eighties; it was probably seen as a convenient reason for my leaving the ministry. Although I had presented my case in detail and even given names, I was not confronted with the perpetrator, which I had actually expected. Did they not want to know the truth? I submitted my request for laicisation, based on grounds of abuse, to the Roman Catholic authorities in 1985 – did the accusations never reach the German diocese where my abuser was still working?
When there was no response from the Church, we were married in a civil ceremony. It was not until six years later that the approval of my application for laicisation eventually came – without any further comment and without my case ever being heard.
We were finally able to have our marriage blessed in church. Up until then, I was a “fugitivus” in church law terms – a refugee, an errant runaway.

Up until this point I had clung like a drowning man to the security of a fictitious existence, and so the transition did not happen without a break. I couldn’t forgive myself for that first true act of freedom in my life for a very long time, instead I added it to my imaginary list of debts. Yet it was lifesaving. Without it, I would have pushed my dissociation (4) forward into ever greater inner conflicts and would have fallen into meaningless self-help. The freedom that I took will forever remind me that freedom itself is a gift from God – a gift not just for me, a gift for everyone. Without it, God would have created us as robots, and he would have penned himself as the mastermind, mercilessly keeping track of all the imperfections of us dysfunctional human machines. But God is love and that is what attracts people, setting them free and enabling them to follow the ever-clearer path to happiness. Choosing freedom has a high price. Sometimes you have to leave behind all your security, all the approval and goodwill you once received, and walk the narrow path of general contempt. But you have to hold onto God – hold onto Him and keep your ears open so you don’t miss his call to life. Our marriage has been blessed with three children and two grandchildren. My wife and I lead a spiritual life. We feel led on unusual paths yet are wonderfully guided and richly blessed. Our life belongs to the Lord. The faith of the Church is our joy. We try to live it as best we can and to pass it on to others.

What helped me

I don’t want to tell you the whole complicated story of my trauma and its psychological consequences that lasted for decades. Only this much: Anyone who has been abused has to rediscover their “Dear God” and set out on the long journey towards new beginnings, healing, and self-acceptance. I, too, reached a point where I said to myself: I will never again let anyone get close to me, I will never again confide in anyone, I will never again accept any gifts, I will never again have to thank anyone, I will never again be dependent on anyone and I will never again let anyone lead me (5). Such a person is not only a social challenge for those around him; he is also a structural atheist (or at least a deist (6)), no matter how much the pious façade seems to prove the opposite. I do want to mention two things that have brought me into brighter places over the years: prayer and confession. It was probably not until I was in Taizé in the nineties that I learned to pray properly: to breathe in healing silence, to remain for a length of time in God’s healing presence. Perhaps it was even Frère Roger’s face, beaming with deep inner joy, simply bursting with joy, that moved me and created in me a new image of God, and the beginnings of healing. Later, a good friend recommended that I pray the daily rosary; now, years later, I still wouldn’t want to miss it. For me, it has become the connecting cord between the unfathomable mysteries of God and my own baffling biography. You go in and then come out changed: in serenity, sometimes in deep joy. You know you are being guided. HE is there. Of similar importance to me was the sacrament of reconciliation. I have been going to confession every few weeks for over twenty years now – at first probably in quite the wrong way, and full of bogus self-accusations, but then it changed. In confession I learned to talk about myself – I wasn’t able to do that before. That was the most important thing, plus a realistic self-assessment. Here I took my first steps in loving self-acceptance. Today, confession is a wonderful gift from God: I can let myself be freed from yesterday’s ballast and start anew as if into a glorious new summer day. On the whole, I have always been comforted by Frère Roger’s words that the wounds of childhood are “the springs of new life”. That is true.

Because I was so close to him, I think I can now reconstruct quite precisely what was going on inside my abuser’s head, and what his character profile was. Over the decades, my initial hatred of him gradually turned into an understanding that he, the abuser, was probably himself a victim of his circumstances: of the war, or perhaps of his parental home. I was helped in this process by spiritual retreat which I undertook with an Indian priest a few years ago. I was told to reconnect with my abuser (who has long since died). That evening, sitting on the edge of my bed in my room, I had a crazy idea. The man had to be on the internet! There was no way that someone who had been in the public eye for so long wasn’t on the internet! I had often tried to find traces of him, always in vain. But that evening I went to Google/Image once again, typed in his name and the place – and straight away his portrait out at me in the very first search window. Blood rushed to my head; the images and feelings of those days engulfed me. It was a message: I should pray for him, think about him, be reconciled with him. I put the smartphone aside, picked up the rosary. Days later, I searched for him again, using the very same data with which I had discovered him only a short time before; however, his picture had now been deleted, as if by magic, for some reason. The fact that it was “shown” to me once more before it finally disappeared into the depths of the digital universe is one of the signs that I interpret with faith.

The man was homosexual – with an ephebophilic streak. How do I know that? He didn’t tell me, but the distorted way he treated me and other adolescent boys, and also the way he spoke of women, allows no other conclusion. He idolised his mother; but at the same time, he despised sexually mature girls and younger women, ignored them, either did not talk to them at all, or spoke of them in a sexist, almost obscene way. He completely ignored the girls’ youth group – of course there were also girls in the congregation (with an understandably left-wing slant) – whereas the women’s group, on the other hand, run by older women, and in which he was the celebrated cock of the roost, flourished. When he drove me anywhere in the car, I kept my legs to the side, fearing he might put his hand on my thigh, especially since he once told me in a fit of frankness that women were no danger to him, but that he might weaken over a young boy’s thigh…

How did someone like that become a priest? I think he was a devout young man who sensed irritating tendencies in himself but wanted to live “chastely” according to the morals of his time and his Catholic environment. The heroic priestly ideal suited his desires and his fierce religious pathos. The desire to be “fatherly”, to be perceived as the father of the community, was very strong in him, although he only ever spoke about his strong mother, hardly ever of his father, a busy businessman. Pastoral work calls for fatherly people. If priests can respond to this calling from a full – or rather: a pure – heart, they can be truly blessed and find their own happiness in life in being a shepherd and father. My home parish actually perceived my abuser as a strong pater familias who powerfully and unselfishly took care of all kinds of things that needed to be nurtured. The church was renovated, a rectory was built; he even invested his own money in the improvement of the church music. He probably worked for many years, maybe even a decade and a half, without being guilty of anything. I felt this fatherly and also quite beautiful side of him in an almost unrealistic way. I was supposed to be “his son”, his creation. He wanted to make something out of me, something in his image – a priest, even if at the time it seemed as if he had chosen the most unsuitable material in the world: a failure, a wreck, completely lacking in self-confidence, a late pubescent wimp. The world would have been okay like that really, if only I hadn’t experienced that huge breach of trust, the clash between my longing for a father and his pulsional desire, which turned my world upside down from one minute to the next. A father may do anything except lust for his child.

Losing my Father Three Times

Yet it was precisely this emotional clash that I experienced. The man who ruined my youth (and almost destroyed my whole life) had a real longing to replace my father, to really be “my father”, until the fateful sexual impulse in him, kept carefully in line for so long, finally got the upper hand, I became the object of his desire and he made a pass at me. From then on, he probably wanted to prove to me even more emphatically that his fatherliness was not fake, but the line had now been crossed and it could be crossed again at any time with acts of sexual abuse. There was a constant tension in the air. I had lost my second father. And at the time I had no idea that I was to lose my third father, my “Dear God” in heaven, too. “You have lost your father three times, you have closed your heart three times,” my psychotherapist told me, showing me what had happened deep inside me. As long as I was stuck in my fate, I had a cruel image of God – a God who wanted to take away my freedom, who ordered me around. I raised the white flag, capitulated completely, and thought it would be godly to show utter obedience and say, “Father, Thy will be done!” I have since thought long and hard about what a true father is, why he exists, what a child can expect from him: he protects you, your body, your soul. He provides you with intimacy. He frees you from the symbiosis with your mother and helps you to become a free, adult human being. He is a strong and fair role model, a man you can emulate. He is how you want to be. He shows you what your Father in heaven is like ….

Shame for Everyone

I have often discussed the core experience of the broken father with professionals, and they confirmed to me that the shift from genuine fatherliness to abusive lust is not atypical of “ephebophilic” perpetrators, whether they occur in the priesthood or – much more frequently – fatefully overstep the mark within a family context. I do not like the word “ephebophilia” (Greek: love of young boys) introduced by Magnus Hirschfeld, and basically reject it as an offensive euphemism. In the rarest of cases it is love, but rather often only the exploitation of a boy to satisfy one’s own lust. In the past, the German word “Knabenschänder” (child molester/violator) was used for the same thing. People avoid this word these days because it does not seem to be conducive to the long-term acceptance of sexual preferences, and because it sounds like older gentlemen who roam the streets under the cover of night. But the word captures exactly my life-changing experience and also that of others who have been affected. How do you feel when you have experienced this? “Violated” is sadly spot on – violated, dishonoured, and used. But priests who have abused young boys haven’t just left scorched earth in the souls of young people. They have violated, dishonoured, and used the priesthood, they have disgraced and discredited the whole Church. They have made people despise the Catholic Church as if it were a collection of corrupt and perverted people. They have plunged straight into darkness all the decent people who have given and give their lives spreading the Gospel. They have somehow made the whole Church of God responsible.

The longer I personally wrestled with the issue, the clearer it became to me that I should not stop at my resentment, which I owe to the fact that an abysmal aspect of homosexuality has been burned into my memory. I long for my church to do justice to people who did not choose their sexual orientation. The church must meet them, as far as possible, with understanding and the opportunity to find new ways. Here, as everywhere, the axiom of “et” applies … et: the whole law and the whole grace. To follow the simplest agenda and to establish homosexuality across the board as a normal colour on the sexual palette of morality seems to me, based on “our” church experiences – I use the plural once again – to be an unwise path. And there is an order: Once the church has solved its own problem with homosexual abuse, it needs to think about how to give a better home in the church to homosexual and bisexual people who want to face the challenge of a Christian life. Using one thing to solve the other will only lead even deeper into the crisis….

This article is an abridged, edited, and authorised excerpt from:
Bernhard Meuser, Freie Liebe – Über neue Sexualmoral, Verlag fontis, ISBN 978-3-03848-203-1

(1) The so-called “Requiem” is derived from the first line of the Latin introductory hymn of the Gregorian Mass for the dead: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine = Eternal rest grant them, O Lord”.
(2) Cain killed his brother Abel in the 4th chapter of the Book of Genesis; God provided him with a mark that identified him as the murderer, but also saved him from being killed.
(3) The word comes from the French (travesti = disguised), and means a weird, twisted story, in theatre often when women’s roles are taken over by men (and vice versa).
(4) The word dissociation comes from the Latin dissociare = to separate, to cut, and in psychotherapy refers to the process of repressive splitting and the falling apart of personality elements that are normally connected.
(5) (5) The German organisation “Lichtweg” cares for victims of sexual violence. The informative homepage contains the following assessment: “The consequences of sexual abuse shape or destroy the lives of men just as much as those of female victims – whereby the consequences express themselves according to gender roles. Men are less likely to remain fixated on their victim role and more often cover up their psychological injuries with a hard shell, exceptional ambition or by being particularly helpful. It is not uncommon for them to suffer from ongoing relationship problems, anxiety or addiction problems, but being men, they are particularly ashamed to seek the necessary therapeutic help.” www.lichtweg.de/jungen.php
(6) From the Latin deus = God. So-called deism does not deny the existence of God. But the God of the deists is in a sense a “God in retirement”, one who created the world but has turned away from it and no longer cares about it.

Translated by: Karen Kersten