German abuse victim's anger at pope's apology BY Ulrike von Leszczynski, dpa (News Feature)
Mar 21, 2010, 17:24 GMT
Berlin - The first reaction is disgust. Then comes the anger. Stefanie Schneider feels it rising whenever the subject turns to sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
Since Pope Benedict XVI told Irish Catholics he was 'truly sorry' for the abuse of boys and girls, Schneider's anger has been even stronger. She personally experienced more than 10 years of abuse, at the hands of priests in the diocese of Muenster.
Will the pope do nothing more than express regret for the deeds of Irish priests? Schneider asked, stunned. She barely slept after hearing the news. Were children to remain exposed to clerics just as defencelessly as she had been?
'These old, cold men don't want to make any changes to the structure of the church, and least of all to the way they deal with their sexuality,' she judged.
Stefanie Schneider is not her real name. The woman, in her early 40s, did not want her name to appear in the newspapers. Her parents still live in her home town, in a deeply Catholic province, where priests are undisputed figures of authority.
Schneider's tormentor, who forced her onto his sofa and passionately kissed her time and again, has since become an honorary citizen of her home town.
She was 10 years old when the priest's visits to their home became more and more frequent. He would listen to classical music with her mother, and once gave her a golden necklace with a cross.
The girl's parents suspected nothing when the priest invited her to his apartment. 'He was a man of the church,' Schneider explained. 'After the war, the church was the only support my mother had.'
The priest of Schneider's childhood smelt of alcohol. The first time he kissed her, she was paralyzed with fear.
She told her mother, who said, 'You don't need to go back there.' She did not tell her daughter that what he had done to her was wrong.
Today, Schneider cannot tear herself away from newspapers, radio or television reports about sexual abuse. With a mixture of curiosity and disgust, she watched the Catholic church respond to the cases of sexual abuse at Catholic schools filling the media.
'Money for the US, regret for Ireland, silence for Germany,' she said of the pope's pastoral letter.
'Whose wounds does the pope want to heal? Those of the children? Or is this about the damaged image of the church?,' Schneider asked. In her opinion, the church is failing.
'I am waiting for an admission that the massive abuse of children in the Catholic church must have a structural cause,' she said. 'The cover-up was systematic.'
Schneider does not want an apology from Rome, which in any case she says she would not believe. She wants the Catholic church to rethink its image of humanity. 'It is rotting from within,' she said.
Schneider has spent a lot of money on therapy, trying to break free from a repeated cycle of victimhood. 'I won't allow my life to be ruined,' she said.
As a child, she wished her mother would beat up the kissing priest. At the age of 16, she received her next kiss - from another priest. Once more, she went to her mother. 'You went along with it,' was the response.
Schneider gave in and accepted the priest, who was 20 years her senior, as a father-figure and lover. He never took it further than the passionate kisses. 'I was dependent on him,' Schneider said. He even chose which subjects she studied.
This sense of powerlessness seemed to determine Schneider's life.
'I developed a faulty filter for men,' she said. 'I attracted the abusive type.' Years later, she was raped by one of her boyfriends.
It wasn't until her mid-30s that Schneider signed up for abuse therapy.
She is now very careful around men. She has left the church. She lives alone, and focuses all her energy on work. She would have liked to have had children one day, she said. 'But that is all over.'