BERLIN — A report to be released Tuesday documents the sexual abuse of more than 3,600 people by 1,670 clergy members within Germany’s Catholic Church over a period of 68 years – and even those numbers likely underestimate the scale of the problem, the authors say.

Abuse of that magnitude constitutes one of the largest Catholic Church scandals in Europe. But, at the same time, it is not altogether surprising to many church watchers. Evidence of widespread abuse and its cover-up has been found in every jurisdiction that has launched an investigation. Australia, Chile and a number of U.S. states are part of the growing list.

The German report, commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference and conducted by researchers from three German universities, provides a snapshot not only of abuse, but of the trauma and isolation faced by victims long afterward.

It also contradicts a narrative held among some in the church that the abuse cases coming to light now are all old cases and the problem has since been addressed.

The German researchers said abuse occurred throughout the period they examined, from 1946 until 2014.

“We are experiencing a very dark hour in our church’s history, which will hopefully result in a cleansing and renewal,” Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, from Essen, wrote in a letter to his diocese.

“The dangers are far from being exorcised. We must fear that there is and could still be sexual abuse among us.”

An advance copy of the 356-page report was shared with The Washington Post by Die Zeit, a German weekly.

The report does not detail the experience of individual victims, nor does it provide the names of alleged abusers or those who helped protect them.

Critics say the study lacks the rigor of government-backed reports, such as the one released last month by Pennsylvania’s attorney general. The German researchers did not have direct access to church files and instead depended on questionnaires and other correspondence with dioceses, as well as interviews, criminal records and an anonymous online survey of victims willing to participate.

The Catholic Church has been slow to grapple with the global scale of its sexual abuse crisis. Pope Francis has called the world’s senior bishops to the Vatican for an unprecedented abuse-related meeting in February. But the church has so far taken few meaningful steps to improve transparency or hold accountable the higher-ups who protect abusers.

Some victims say reports such as the one out of Germany have lost their ability to shock and instead only serve to heighten anger about the broader pattern of church neglect.

“The impact on the public in Germany right now is quite big,” said Matthias Katsch, the chairman of a German victims’ group. “What has influence is the ongoing worldwide crisis. People realize this isn’t a local problem – it is a global problem of the Catholic Church.”

As in many parts of Europe, Catholicism in Germany has faced a steady decline. Pope Francis has spoken about an “erosion” of faith in the country. Germany has nearly 24 million registered Catholics, but only one in 10 regularly attends Mass.

German bishops have gained a reputation for their progressive leanings, with some advocating for positions – such as giving Communion to divorced Catholics or taking a more conciliatory approach toward gay people – they say can help the faith in the modern age.

Since the details of the report leaked earlier this month, Germany has entered into a different kind of debate: one focused on steps the church can take to reduce the prevalence of abuse

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, advised that the church will “need to face up to the discussion about topics like changes in sexual morality, or the abolition of celibacy.”


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