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

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Washington Post

 21 April 2010

By William Wan 

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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 German priest ordered home from US in abuse case

 Associated Press

 20 April 2010

 By VERENA SCHMITT-ROSCHMANN (AP)

 BERLIN — A German priest has been suspended and ordered home from a posting in the U.S. as he faces allegations he sexually abused teenage girls in Germany two decades ago, church authorities said Tuesday.

 The Roman Catholic diocese of Mainz in southwestern Germany said it had informed prosecutors in Darmstadt of the abuse allegations. It gave little detail but said there was no suggestion that he sexually abused children under the age of 14.

 The priest has most recently been working at the German Catholic Mission in Washington, D.C., pastoring to Germans there. Church authorities didn’t identify him.

 The Mainz diocese and the German bishops conference said in a joint statement 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, for help as early as 2004, the statement said.

 But the Schoenstatt Institute leadership at the time did not inform the diocese, the statement said.

 Instead, the group — citing a previous relationship between the priest and a woman — asked the bishop of Mainz to grant him “time to reflect” and proposed that he be sent abroad, it added.

 “They should have gone to the diocese” with the allegations, diocese spokesman Tobias Blum told The Associated Press. “If we had known about it, we would never have sent him abroad.”

 A spokeswoman for the Schoenstatt Institute, Kornelia Fisch, told AP the group was still trying to find out what exactly happened in 2004.

 She could not immediately say how the allegations came up again now, what exactly the priest is accused of and how many alleged victims might be involved.

 “It is our interest to fully clear up these things,” Fisch said.

 She said the Schoenstatt Institute has been in touch with its branch in Washington but no allegations were known there.

 Blum said the priest is back in Germany but did not disclose details.

 The Schoenstatt Institute had informed the diocese on March 30, according to the statement.

 Blum could not immediately say why the statement was issued three weeks later.

 Separately, a prominent German bishop accused of physical abuse of children decades ago and of financial misconduct on Tuesday offered an apology.

 “I am pained in my heart and sorry for causing many people grief,” Bishop Walter Mixa said in a statement without specifying what he meant.

 The statement comes after Mixa met with the priest council in his Augsburg diocese in southern Germany. It said the council “shares the concern of many about the credibility of our church.”

 Mixa initially denied he had ever used any kind of violence against youngsters but later acknowledged he may have slapped children. A special investigator has also said there were financial irregularities at a children’s home under Mixa’s responsibility

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