A leaked report details 70 years of gross sexual abuse within the German Catholic church. The 350-page report highlights close to 4,000 cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests against minors. The report was due to be released later this month but was leaked on Wednesday to Der Spiegel and Die Zeit.

According to German researchers, the extent of sexual abuse carried on by Catholic clerics in Germany was simply a “historical phenomenon.” The report covers 38,000 church documents relating to 27 German Catholic dioceses. The documents revealed that 1,670 German Catholic priests violated 969 altar boys, with up to a half under 13 years of age.

German Police Never Notified of Priest Sex Abuse Cases, Most Go Free

According to the report, in many instances, German bishops who sexually abused children were transferred to new parishes without informing the larger congregation of the circumstances surrounding their transfer. As a result, the abuse continued, and new parishes were exposed to the sexually abusive bishops.

Many argue transferring bishops to other parishes signified the taciturn acceptance of their wrongdoing by the Catholic Church. In most cases, the police were never aware of what was happening, and only a handful of priests faced criminal charges in German courts. Statistically, just 38 percent of priests accused of sexual abuse ever faced criminal charges in German courts, and reportedly the church only contacted police in just 7 percent of known cases.

Shuffling abusive priests to different parishes was not a practice exclusive to Germany. Just weeks ago in mid-August, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a 1,300-page report that implicated over 300 priests in decades of sexual abuse and coverups in six Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.

Catholic Dioceses Destroyed Evidence of Priest Sexual Abuse 

Researchers found only a third of the German priests accused of sex abuse were disciplined by the church. A few sex abusers were excommunicated or defrocked, but most others went free. German researchers also discovered that two Catholic dioceses destroyed several files containing sexual abuse decades ago and discovered “clear indications of file manipulation.” Two dioceses told researchers that files containing reports of sexual abuse had been shredded in the past.

The study was researched over a period of four years by researchers from universities in Mannheim, Heidelberg and Giessen. It was commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference. The researchers said the report was only a first step in the right direction to remedy things in the Catholic Church and urged leaders in different German dioceses to take proactive steps to set things right after the report is presented later this month.

The Vatican has not yet issued a response.

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