Father H's Story: Germany's Pedophile Priest Scandal

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On Tuesday, after he had been fired from his job as a counselor at a Bavarian spa town, the priest at the center of the German Catholic Church scandal paid a visit to the man who had been his therapist in Munich when the troubles began back in the 1980s. Dr. Werner Huth describes his former patient as now being a "broken old man and very depressed." But, he says, "the priest still sees himself as a victim."

In an interview with TIME, Dr. Huth paints a portrait of the priest known as Father H., accused of sexually abusing boys in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, then run by Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. Father H., says the psychiatrist, "was narcissistic, like other pedophiles, and I repeatedly warned church officials in the 1980s that he shouldn't be allowed to work with children or young people." Dr. Huth says the priest came to him in 1980 after he was transferred to Munich to undergo therapy. As Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Ratzinger approved the transfer from Essen to Munich and the decision to give Father H. housing in the Munich diocese to undertake therapy. "A Jesuit father in Essen sent me a letter telling me about Father H.'s pedophilia and the priest then approached me directly," says Dr. Huth. The psychiatrist says Father H. initially didn't want any therapy, and he lacked self-awareness, refusing to acknowledge what he did was wrong. "Father H. was a pedophile — there's no doubt about it — and he was also a gifted actor," Dr. Huth says, recalling the fact that the priest boasted that he was a budding actor as a child.

Such were his concerns about the priest's pedophilic tendencies that Dr Huth said he set three conditions when he started treating Father H: that he shouldn't be allowed to work with children, he should give up alcohol, (because he allegedly committed the acts of abuse when he was drunk), and that he needed a mentor, someone who could supervise him at all times. The doctor said he made these requirements clear to church officials during a number of conversations, including an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising. "Father H. never fulfilled these conditions," says Huth who treated him in group therapy sessions from 1980 to 1992. Amid the group therapy, Father H. was convicted of sexually abusing minors in 1986. Afer receiving an 18-month suspended prison sentence and paying a fine, Father H. continued to do pastoral work. But Huth says the priest told the group during therapy sessions that he operated in the parish and kept away from children. "He was a good liar," says Huth.

Then in 2008, Dr. Huth says he received a call from a church official who told him that Father H. was still working with children. Indeed, for more than 20 years, the priest worked as a curate and parish administrator in the picturesque Bavarian town of Garching an der Alz, where he had regular contact with children and had supervised 150 altar-boys. The official had stumbled across old files which raised alarm bells. "I was horrified as there was no way this man should have been near children," Dr. Huth, now 80, told TIME from his house in Munich. After consulting with Huth, the church official had Father H. transferred to the Bavarian spa town of Bad Tölz where he was put in charge of counselling services for tourists and visitors.

Then, on March 12, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed the priest's history of sexual abuse. Three days later, Father H. was suspended from all pastoral duties. The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising admitted that he'd breached a church order banning him from working with children or youths and said in a statement that "serious mistakes" were made in the 1980s. And there was one resignation. Father H's superior, prelate Josef Obermaier, stepped down after the archdiocese said he assumed responsibility for "grave errors."

While the case of Father H. has assumed a high profile, Germany's sexual abuse scandal first broke in January when it was alleged that two former priests molested pupils at Berlin's Jesuit school, Canisius College. Since then, dozens of people have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse levelled against former priests. The scandal has even spread to the famous Regensburg Cathedral choir — which was led by the Pope's brother Georg Ratzinger for 30 years — and there've been up to a hundred allegations of abuse at a boarding school run by Benedictine monks in Ettal, Bavaria, which was raided by state prosecutors. Germany's Catholic Church has pulled out all the stops to convince parishioners that it's doing everything to prevent such abuse cases from happening again. It is setting up a nationwide hotline for victims of abuse on March 30 and has pledged to step up preventive measures and work closely with state prosecutors.

While there's been feverish speculation in the German media about the Pope's role in the Father H affair, Dr. Huth says he thinks that Archbishop Ratzinger did not know about the case, simply because it seems unlikely that he'd be aware of everything that happened in his diocese. But the psychiatrist criticised church officials for turning a blind eye to the priest's history of abuse by not launching a thorough investigation. "Senior figures in the Catholic Church covered up the allegations of abuse in order to protect Father H and the church's image," Dr. Huth says. "The Church has an idealised, 'unworldly' attitude towards issues of sexuality."