Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catholic priest removed, returned to Germany to face sexual abuse allegations

Catholic priest removed, returned to Germany to face sexual abuse allegations

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 21, 2010; B08

A German Catholic priest who has served in Washington for the past six years has been removed from ministry and ordered home to face surfacing allegations that he sexually abused teenage girls in Germany two decades ago, church officials said late Tuesday night.

The priest, Michael Schapfel, was removed from ministry after the German Bishops' Conference and the Diocese of Mainz in that country learned of the allegations March 30, reported them to authorities and called Schapfel at home during the Easter holiday. An archdiocese spokeswoman said local church officials were not told about it until Tuesday.

The Archdiocese of Washington said it has not received any reports of abuse by Schapfel during his time in the District. Since 2004, he has served as chaplain of the 75-family German Pastoral Mission of Washington, which is attended mainly by German parishioners.

Before coming to Washington, Schapfel was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Mainz in 1984 and held a number of positions in Germany, including an assignment with the Secular Institute of Schoenstatt Diocesan Priests.

It was a report from the Schoenstatts to the Diocese of Mainz that led to his removal from ministry. According to a news release from the German Bishops' Conference, the Schoenstatts had information as early as 2004 that suggested a past inappropriate relationship, but the information was not shared, according to church officials.

According to the Associated Press in Germany, the Mainz diocese and the German Bishops' Conference said in a joint statement that the suspended priest is suspected of "having had sexual relations in the late 80s and early 90s with female youths and young women who had confided to him in his capacity as a pastor."

One person reported abuse to the Schoenstatt Institute of Diocesan Priests, to which the priest belongs, as early as 2004, the statement said. But the leaders of that group did not inform the diocese at that time, the statement said.

Schapfel arrived in Washington with a letter of suitability from his home diocese, affirming that he had no known criminal background nor anything that would "render him unsuitable to work with children," according to the Washington Archdiocese. He attended mandatory child protection training, signed an affidavit that he read and agreed to follow the child protection policy.

The Archdiocese of Washington said the German Bishops' Conference has written to the people of the pastoral mission and will send a representative to meet with them.

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