Wednesday, March 31, 2010

German bishop accused of beating orphaned girls

From Times Online March 31, 2010

German bishop accused of beating orphaned girls

(Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
The new accusations are a further blow to Pope Benedict XVI
Roger Boyes, Berlin
One of the Pope's closest conservative allies in Germany, Bishop Walter Mixa, has been accused of brutally beating and flogging children in his care.

The Bishop of Augsburg, 68, denies the claims by five former pupils at a Catholic-run orphanage and care facility. But they will be a source of deep embarrassment and concern in the Vatican: Bishop Mixa is part of a conservative axis in Pope Benedict XVI's native Bavaria that has always backed the pontiff in his most controversial decisions, from criticising the violence of Islam in Regensburg cathedral, to rehabilitating the Holocaust-sceptic Bishop Richard Williamson.

Although there are no accusations of sexual abuse at the home – where the bishop was a visiting priest in the 1970s and 1980s – it is clear that Mr Mixa is in trouble.

"Once he took a wooden cooking spoon and beat me until it broke," sais Markus Tagwerk, now 41, who was in the Catholic home between 1972 and 1982.

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"Then he used his hand. He would shout, 'Take this punishment, child of God!' and 'I'll soon drive Satan out of you!'". The beatings were regular and always brutal.

"At least fifty times Mr Mixa pulled down my trousers and beat me on the bottom with a stick, five or six whacks each time," Mr Tagwerk added.

The name Markus Tagwerk is a pseudonym, because the man making the allegations is a teacher.

But others have decided to give their real names and all five accusers have officially notarised their statements.

"It was a terrible blow for me when I saw that Pope Benedict had promoted Mixa to be the Bishop of Augsburg," Hildegard Sedlmair, 48, said.

"He used to rip me out of bed and beat me on the upper arm with a clenched fist."

She and another former pupil, Monika Bernhard, 47, allege that the then priest, backed up by nuns, introduced a "climate of fear".

The blows were always administered in places where the bruising could be hidden – high up on the arm or on the bottom.

One of the victims, a man who is now 44, reports being flogged with a carpet beater, 35 strokes each time.

Angelika Knopf, the pseudonym of a sales assistant in Augsburg, said she was struck as a young teenager ten times with the future bishop's balled fist. "After every punch I fell on to the bed. Mr Mixa demanded that I stand up immediately and would throw another punch," she said.

The orphanage, in the village of Schrobenhausen, has been under different management since 1999 and no complaints have been made public since Mr Mixa moved on and started to rise in the church hierarchy.

It is a measure of the bishop's standing that he has relatively free licence to make outspoken comments about society in and out of the pulpit.

He has railed against the German Government for making "birth machines" out of women. Its plans to expand the crèche network and allow women to return to work smacked, he said, of East German communist practises.

He compared abortion to the Holocaust – a particularly shocking statement when made by a senior cleric in Germany. He also accused Israel of racism in its treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

His view of the latest child abuse scandal sweeping the church was characteristically pugnacious. "The sexual revolution of the 1960s is at least partly to blame for this," he said.

A long-standing member of the child care charity, SOS-Kinderdorf, has come forward to say that at least two of the bishop's accusers relayed their stories to the charity many years ago – long before the current global flood of abuse reports.

"We did not take action then because open criticism can sometimes boomerang against the accusers," a spokeswoman said.

"These are absurd and defamatory statements, " a spokeswoman for the Bishopric of Augsburg said.

The bishop has let it be known that he is considering legal action to defend his reputation.

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