German Prelate Falsely Accused of Abuse Cover-up

Campaign Denounced as Sensationalist Publicity Stint

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FREIBURG IM BREISGAU, Germany, JUNE 3, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau is denouncing a campaign to implicate its head, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, in the alleged cover-up of an abuse case that happened in the 1960s.



An archdiocesan communiqué, which was publicized by the Vatican press office, stated that the suspicions brought against the archbishop, president of the German bishops' conference, are unfounded.

The accusation, presented to the office of the public prosecutor of Freiburg, stated that the prelate allegedly covered up a case of sexual abuse committed by a Cistercian priest in the 60s in the monastery of Birnau, a place of pilgrimage, and that the archbishop was responsible for assigning the priest new tasks in the archdiocese.
 
However, an archdiocesan spokesman asserted that "the accusation of condemnable behavior by Archbishop Zollitsch is unfounded."
 
The archdiocese reported that it learned about this case, which took place in the 60s, at the end of 2006. At that moment the archdiocesan officials immediately took the matter to the competent leaders of the Cistercian Order.
 
The communiqué noted that it is not possible to accuse the archbishop of having given new tasks to the accused priest, who was reincorporated into the life of the Cistercian community, because jurisdiction over this community corresponds to the abbot, not to the archbishop, as established by the Code of Canon Law.

In fact, today the superior of the Cistercian Abbey of Wettingen-Mehrerau, Father Anselm van der Linde, issued a communiqué, also sent through the Vatican press office, to affirm that Archbishop Zollitsch did not have jurisdiction over the accused priest.

Thus, the abbot noted, the prelate is innocent of the accusation presented against him.

He added, "I learned with profound sorrow that Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has been involved -- in a sudden and groundless way -- in a case of sexual abuse committed by a member of our order some 30 years ago."

The abbot explained that the priory of Birnau "belongs to the territorial prelature of the Abbey of Wettingen-Mehrerau, in Bregenz."

Clarifications

"From the point of view of canon law," he said, "the abbot of that monastery is responsible for the members of the community. Moreover, the Cistercian community is an order of pontifical right; hence, it is not subject to the local bishops, but to the Pope."
 
The archdiocesan communiqué noted that it has been in contact with the prosecutor's office "to be able to document quickly the inconsistency of the accusations against Archbishop Zollitsch."

It added that "in past months the archdiocese showed that, after having learned of the accusations against the Cistercian priest in question, it reacted immediately."

As such, archdiocesan officials informed the leaders of the Cistercian Order and reminded them of the consequent actions they should take.
 
In its communiqué, the archdiocese lamented the fact that the accusation was presented simultaneously to the prosecutor and to the press, "which shows the intention to arouse the interest of the media with a sensationalist accusation of 'collaboration in sexual abuse' launched against an archbishop."

Abbot Anselm, who has been in this post for just one year, said that "unfortunately, in the past our community has not given the appropriate treatment to those culpable of victims of sexual abuse, and I say it with profound sorrow.
 
He continued: "I cannot make the injustice that took place not to have happened. I can only invite and encourage the victims to contact the state authorities and, if it is possible for them, to contact me."
 
Abbot Anselm ended by stressing that Archbishop Zollitsch "had nothing to do" with the decisions and the events of the Birnau Priory.