A conspiracy of silence, or culture of silence, describes the behavior of a group of people — as large as an entire national group or profession, or as small as a group of colleagues — that by unspoken consensus does not mention, discuss, or acknowledge a given subject. For decades, a “culture of silence” pervaded a Catholic music school where the brother of a future pope directed a renowned boys’ choir, contributing to an environment in which at least 547 children were abused.
The 1,000-year-old cathedral choir, The Regensburger Domspatzen ("Cathedral Sparrows"), was initially rocked by allegations of widespread sexual abuse in 2010. After intense pressure from the victims did the diocese call upon an outside lawyer, Ulrich Weber, to conduct an independent inquiry.
Presenting his findings on Tuesday, Mr Weber said the investigation had found 500 cases of physical abuse and 67 instances of sexual abuse over six decades. However, he said he was unable to contact or speak directly to a number of former students and said he estimated the true number of victims to be as high as 700. The report accuses 49 members of the Catholic Church, most of them priests, who served as teachers and administrators and performed other jobs in the school, of carrying out the abuse between 1945 and the early 1990s. The most severe abuse took place among primary-school students in the 1960s and ’70s, mostly boys 9 to 11 living away from home.
He said the victims described their experiences at the boarding schools in southern Germany as "the worst time of their lives, characterized by fear, violence and hopelessness". The sexual abuse ranged from “leering looks or verbal abuse, to the forced consummation of pornography, unwanted sexual touching to forced sex,” the report said.
The choir dates to the 10th century and continues to perform at Sunday Mass in Regensburg’s 16th-century Gothic cathedral. The choir’s music director from 1964 to 1994 was the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, whose younger brother, Joseph Ratzinger, reigned as Pope Benedict XVI from 2005 to 2013. Mr. Weber said that while Mr. Ratzinger, now 93, had no knowledge of sexual abuse, "one can accuse him of looking the other way and failing to intervene".
The Regensburg diocese has paid 450,000 euros to victims through a fund established after the abuse came to light. The victims are now expected to receive 20,000 euros ($23,000) each in a compensation. “I sharply condemn this,” Mr. Büchner, who now directs the choir, said on Tuesday and added: “It must never happen again.”
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