South African public prosecutors will decide later this month whether to press charges against Fr Georg Kerkhoff arising from complaints in Johannesburg, where until recently he worked as priest to the city’s 3,500-strong German community.
Parallel to the South African investigation, a German abuse victim-support group has plans to sue the diocese of Aachen for allowing Fr Kerkhoff continued contact with children despite complaints going back more than a decade.
“Independent of the sexual abuse claims, bishops should have seen that he likes boys and recognised his manipulative actions in parishes,” said Johannes Heibel, head of Germany’s Initiative Against Child Abuse.
Since the organisation’s founding in 1993, Mr Heibel says approximately 40 priests have been convicted on child abuse charges in Germany – but says the real level of abuse is much higher.
“Catholics in Germany still allow themselves to be intimidated. If people here had more courage to press charges, we’d have a situation like in Ireland,” he said.
Charges against Fr Kerkhoff were filed in Johannesburg after children returned traumatised from a weekend Communion preparation trip outside the city in February 2008. They told their parents Fr Kerkhof had allegedly climbed into bed with a nine- year-old.
According to this morning’s Der Spiegel magazine, the priest denied the charges, telling parents: “I only wanted to calm the children down and help them sleep.”
In one parish, locals complained he invited children to share his home sauna. Priests in neighbouring parishes reported the activity to their bishop in Aachen.
“The complaints were not taken seriously,” said one priest, who wished to remain anonymous, to Der Spiegel .
The priest said that, in its reply, church authorities expressed relief that the cases did not involve small children.
An unnamed young man told the magazine how, as a 17-year-old in 2004, Fr Kerkhoff forced him to share a shower after sports.
“For Georg, showering was all about body contact,” he said.” He was very persistent and I didn’t like it.”
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