ESSEN, Germany — The German archdiocese led by the future Pope Benedict XVI ignored repeated warnings in the early 1980s by a psychiatrist treating a priest accused of sexually abusing boys that he should not be allowed to work with children, the psychiatrist said Thursday.
“I said, ‘For God’s sake, he desperately has to be kept away from working with children,”’ the psychiatrist, Dr. Werner Huth, said in a telephone interview from Munich. “I was very unhappy about the entire story.”
Huth said he was concerned enough that he set three conditions for treating the priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann: that he stay away from young people and alcohol and be supervised by another priest at all times.
Huth said he issued the explicit warnings —both written and oral — before the future pope, then Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich and Freising, left Germany for a position in the Vatican in 1982.
In 1980, after abuse complaints from parents in Essen that the priest did not deny, Ratzinger approved a decision to move the priest to Munich for therapy.
Despite the psychiatrist’s warnings, Hullermann was allowed to return to parish work almost immediately after his therapy began, interacting with children as well as adults. Less than five years later, he was accused of molesting other boys, and in 1986 he was convicted of sexual abuse in Bavaria.
Benedict’s deputy at the time, then-Vicar-General Gerhard Gruber, said he was to blame for that personnel decision, referring to what he called “serious mistakes.”
The psychiatrist said in an interview that he did not have any direct communications with Ratzinger and did not know whether or not the archbishop knew about his warnings. Though he said he had spoken with several senior church officials, Huth’s main contact at the time was a bishop, Heinrich Graf von Soden-Fraunhofen, who died in 2000.
Even after his conviction in 1986, Hullermann, now 62, continued working with altar boys for many years. He was suspended Monday for ignoring a 2008 church order not to work with youths.
Hullermann was transferred in December 1977 to the St. Andreas Church in Essen, an industrial city in the Ruhr region not far from where he was born in Gelsenkirchen. The three sets of parents who complained to the church said Hullermann had had “sexual relations” with their children in February 1979, according to a statement this week by the diocese in Essen.
In the minutes taken by the priest in charge of the parish at the meeting with the parents, he noted that in order to protect their children they “would not file charges under the current circumstances.”
For decades it was common practice in the church not to involve law enforcement in sexual abuse cases. Vowing to change that, Bavarian bishops called Thursday for strengthening the duty of church officials to report cases of abuse, and even urged a change in German law requiring them to do so.