INTERVIEW: Why to Leave Georg Ratzinger the Peace, Respect He Deserves

German Historian and Biographer of Popes and Pope Emeritus’ Brother Demonstrates Choirmaster’s Lack of Involvement and Knowledge

Georg Ratzinger at his home in Regensburg -Photo by Michael Hesemann

Georg Ratzinger at his home in Regensburg -Photo by Michael Hesemann

“Once again, I do not want to belittle the violence and its effect on innocent children’s souls. This is all terrible and I’m glad they finally listen to their complaints. But at the same time, I have to defend Georg Ratzinger, because all this had nothing to do with him.”

In an interview with ZENIT, prolific German author and historian, who also co-authored ‘My Brother the Pope,’ with Monsignor Georg Ratzinger said this, while explaining how any negative assertions about Pope Benedict’s brother, in connection with the Regensburg Report, are inaccurate and false.

An independent report found that at one of Germany’s most famous Roman Catholic choir schools, the ‘Vorschule’ and ‘Gymnasium’ of the “Domspatzen” choir in Regensburg, some 547 pupils were physically mistreated, and some 67 of sexually abused, between 1945 and 1992.

What is called ‘Vorschule’ (‘pre-school’) in German got it name because it was a preparation for a career as a choir boy. Children entered it with age six, and after completing its four grades, they left at age 10. ‘Gymnasium’ (‘high school’) is for those aged between 10- 19 years, consisting of nine grades. From there in Germany, one goes on directly to university.

The “Domspatzen” choir was run for 30 years, from 1964 until 1994, by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who has reiterated he was not aware of these revelations, that emerged in 2010. In 2015, German attorney Ulrich Weber was tasked with producing a report on what happened and that finalized report was presented to press in Regensburg, Germany on Tuesday, July 18.

Reflecting on the 440-page report on the “incidents of violence against minors at the Regensburg Cathedral Boy Choir,” the papal biographer stated: “Due to sensationalism, readers have been left with the wrong and false impression that Georg Ratzinger, the brother of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, has something to do with it, since his name is mentioned in nearly all reports relating to the Regensburg Report.”

“In an almost perfidious way, like hydrochloric acid,” he continued, “this suspicion burns its way to his famous brother. In doing so, it regularly misses to point out the important fact that this report expressively relieves the Cathedral Music Director Georg Ratzinger.”

Turning to the report, Michael Hesemann says: “The study should actually consist of two parts, because it involves two completely different types of misdemeanors, which in the general language usage of the media are often summarized under the general term “abuse.”

“This is perfidious, because the reader is led to think of “sexual abuse” first. What is meant, however, is both: sexual abuse, a deplorable, horrific crime, and on the one hand, brutal educational methods, which, of course, cover a wide spectrum, from being beaten with reeds to a slap in the face.”

This second category, he noted, includes 91% of the cases.

The documented 67 cases of sexual abuse were committed by nine teachers in the period between 1945 and 2015, most of them at the pre-school of the Regensburger Cathedral Boy Choir in Etterzhausen and Pielenhofen, which never belonged to the sphere of influence of Georg Ratzinger.

Two perpetrators “were busy” in the early stages of his work at the Cathedral Boy Choir High School in Regensburg, he noted, explaining, one of which was fired after only two years. Only a single perpetrator, director of the high school, was in service when Georg Ratzinger begun, and stayed in office until 1971.

The report categorically concludes, Hesemann cited, that Ratzinger had never heard of the assaults that were so embarrassing to the victims that they did not even tell their parents about it, for the real problem in the prosecution of sexual abuse is always that most of the victims are silent.

If Unaware, How to Intervene?

“How could he have intervened or, if so, to be able to take a conscious look, if he definitely knew nothing?”

After 1972, when Ratzinger established himself in Regensburg – in the first years the cathedral director from the Upper Bavarian province was rather isolated by the Regensburg establishment and felt “artistically as well as humanly oppressed”, as he stated himself in “My Brother, the Pope” – there has not been a single case of sexual abuse at the Regensburger Cathedral boys choir high school – to this day. This is clear from the report.

“For this reason, he is free from any suspicion in this scandalous question. Therefore, there is no reason to link his good name with such repugnant crimes, as unfortunately happened by the press.”

Hesemann again reminded of the difference between pre-school and high school, underscoring that Georg Ratzinger first met the boys when they came from the so-called ‘pre-school’ to the cathedral boy choir ‘high school.’ The high school, as all interviewed eyewitnesses but one agree, was quite different and much more humane.

In this environment, cathedral choir master Georg Ratzinger worked. Born in 1924, Georg is from a time when spanking was common, Hesemann explained. “It was really difficult to estimate where the limits, which were permitted according to the time, were exceeded.”

The report counts only two instances when students informed him about the violence in Etterzhausen, the school adjacent to the choir, Michael noted: “The first time in 1970/71, when he was just started to establish himself, and did not want to hear about the events at a school where he did not work and for which he was not responsible, and then again around 1993.”

When Heard of Corporal Punishments, Called for Urgent Intervention

Already though in 1989, he wrote a letter to the director of the High School, which the report even reproduces. In this letter, he points out that “the preschool continues to practice the spanking.”

In the face of the danger of negative press reports, he recommended urgent intervention.

Hesemann reminded: “This was, of course, at a time when physical punishments were already forbidden by law. Before the 1980s, they were legal, as each of us – I was born in 1964 – still knows from his own time at school. In any case, you can not say he always looked away. That’s just not true.”

Most of his choir boys, the German author shared, describe Ratzinger with lots of positive terms, namely as “sincere, competent and understanding”, “friendly, yes full of love,” “very warm,” “very popular”, “strict, fair but nevertheless good-natured” and “appreciated by all children.”

Every afternoon “he shared cakes, biscuits and candies” with the choir boys. To quote one eyewitness: “The children have met him without fear, he has always been surrounded by groups of children.”

Passionate Perfectionist and Artist

However, the witnesses told, he was also an “absolute perfectionist” who “went on with the music, that was his life” and “was under pressure to keep the level of the choir.”

“Let’s not forget,” Hesemann recalled, “through his achievements the Regensburger Domspatzen were never displaced from the rank list of the world choirs.” His high emotionality and sometimes choleric nature, was seen, occasionally, not as one of his positive attributes. However, he calmed down just as quickly.

“It was rightly understood as an expression of his passion and perfectionism, indeed as spontaneous outbursts of an artist, which immediately after the rehearsal followed by a friendly, even loving attitude”, one of the witnesses is quoted.

“Without his perfectionism, without demanding unconditional discipline,” the German historian explained, “it would hardly have been possible for him to transform a provincial choir into an institution of world rank, the true cultural ambassadors of Europe and its musical tradition.” The choir was on tour twice in the USA (1983 and 1987) and also in Japan (1988 and 1991).

The historian concluded: “With biscuits and sweets alone one does not make big singers out of unruly boys, and before any success, no matter where, there is always discipline, passion and self-conquest.”

Always Strictly Adhered to Law

About his disciplining methods, Hesemann said “let’s limit ourselves to the official examination report and ignore the exaggerations of the tabloid press.” If we do, he explained, we see he has done nothing that not everyone of us, as long as he was born before 1968, experienced during his own school days.

“Even his loudest prosecutors – by the way, a minority: of 124 of the “victims” who had been consulted, only 55 knew of any ‘negative’ about him,” Hesemann noted, “described only the common disciplinary measures of the time, including slaps in the face, a tugging of hair, etc. While beating with reeds was used by the teaching staff of the ‘pre-school,’ Georg consistently renounced this.”

“When bodily punishments were banned in Bavarian schools in 1980, he adhered strictly to this.” Most of the choir boys express very positive memories of him, as the report notes. The investigators Weber and Baumeister also come to the conclusion that Ratzinger can only be criticized for “lack of reactions in the knowledge of physical violence.”

Nothing to Do With Him

“Once again, I do not want to belittle the violence and its effect on innocent children’s souls. This is all terrible and I’m glad they finally listen to their complaints. But at the same time I have to defend Georg Ratzinger, because all this had nothing to do with him. It has also nothing to do with the Catholic Church per se.”

“These were crimes committed at almost every boarding school, ecclesiastical or secular. These were educational methods, which were then the order of the day, noting we can be glad that we have long since overcome this time.”

“But it is most unjust to make a man a media scapegoat, just because he himself is prominent and has an even more prominent brother.”

“Since the report, which has just been published, speaks him free of any relevant elapse, now it would just be decent to finally leave a 93-year-old gentleman, who had earned great merits, in the peace and respect he deserves.”

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