German anger over Church abuse erupts in broomstick attack on bishop

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From The Times

Some of the suppressed fury of German Catholics about the handling of the child abuse scandal spilled over into an attack on a bishop during Easter Sunday High Mass.

Bishop Felix Genn had to hold aloft an incense container to fend off the blows from a broomstick wielded by an angry parishioner trying to beat him on the altar of Germany’s ancient Münster Cathedral.

The attack was the first act of physical violence in a highly emotional Easter festival that has been overshadowed by months of child molestation accusations against priests.

Times Online

04 April 2010

Roger Boyes in Berlin

The 44-year-old assailant ran forward at the beginning of the service and toppled the large Easter candle, then turned on the bishop.

“The bishop was able to defend himself using his incense censer,” Ulrich Bosse, a police spokesman, said. “Fortunately, brave representatives of the church and other worshippers ran forward to overpower and restrain the man until the police could arrive.” The cathedral was packed and the service continued, although members of the congregation reported that the bishop’s voice wavered while leading the prayers. The assailant has been taken for examination to a psychiatric clinic. It was not immediately known whether the attacker had been a victim of abuse.

The incident highlighted one of the most tense Easter festivals in Germany since the Second World War. Parishioners have made plain their unhappiness at the more than 300 child abuse cases that have been made public and, above all, at the poor management of the Church leadership.

Many had hoped for a clear statement from the Pope during his Easter Sunday address in Rome. Instead, some German Roman Catholic bishops used their own Easter sermons to demand a new culture of openness in the Church.

“It is now essential that the wounds are opened, that they are thoroughly cleansed, thoroughly discussed and repented,” the Bishop of Fulda, Heinz Josef Algermissen, said. The sermon of the Catholic bishop — whose diocese has reported more than a dozen cases of priestly abuse in the past fortnight — was in stark contrast to the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi address, which failed even to mention the scandal.

Both the Bishop of Fulda and the the Bishop of Hildesheim, Norbert Trelle, said that they were giving voice to the concerns of many believers who felt that the Church had let them down. The feeling was so strong that the subject could not be factored out of the Easter mass.

“We have to make this part of our Easter prayers — the admission that the disclosures about sexual abuse in Catholic schools, institutions and parishes has wounded and shattered the self-respect of the church, and the confidence in it,” Bishop Algermissen said. Bishop Trelle concentrated on what he said was the growing disillusionment with the Church.

“We are carrying the cross or our own guilt and our own failures,” he said. “There seems to be no end to the revelations about abuse and many are unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even though this is exactly the message of Easter.” Churches in Bavaria, Germany’s Catholic heartland and the home region of the Pope, were less candid, but many did offer up prayers to the victims of priestly molestation. As on Good Friday, they coupled the prayers with a supplementary prayer for the priests who had sinned against children.

In Augsburg, Bishop Walter Mixa, a conservative ally of the Pope, did not mention the fact that six former members of a Catholic hostel had accused him of beating and flogging children in his care. But he did say that the Church had to repent all cases of sexual molestation.

In Berlin, where some parishioners appeared to defy their priests on Good Friday by refusing to kneel in prayer for sinning priests, the mood seemed to have become more reflective over the weekend.

“We are still waiting for the Pope,” a male middle-aged parishioner said, leaving the crowded church of St Ludwig. “This is something that affects the universal church, not just us or the Irish.” Another parishioner, a mother of two boys, said: “This is the time for the Church to stand together. We have to learn to be open but at the same time we owe a debt of solidarity to the priesthood.” The protestant churches are becoming more critical of the behaviour of the Catholic Church. This, in turn, is making even critical Catholics close ranks, at least in Germany.

“I am horrified at how many cartels of silence existed in the past and how many are still operating,” Markus Droege, Protestant Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg, said. “It is, however, a reason for Easterly hope that the victims no longer feel that they have to suppress their suffering. They are recovering their self-esteem.”

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