According to an independent study, the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic diocese of Münster is significantly greater than previously known. The files of the diocese show a number of 610 victims of abuse and thus more than a third more than was recorded in the MHG study presented in 2018 by the German Bishops’ Conference, the scientists at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (WWU) announced on Monday.

Historian Natalie Powroznik, who was involved in the study, said the 610 victims are just the bright field emerging from the files. From comparable cases, a dark field can be assumed that is eight to ten times larger. According to this calculation, there are probably “about 5,000 to 6,000 affected girls and boys” in the Münster diocese.

At least 5,700 individual acts of sexual abuse were committed against the 610 victims who were known by name. In the main phase of the acts – the 1960s and 1970s – there were an average of two acts of abuse by priests per week in the parishes of the Diocese of Münster. Three quarters of the victims are boys, a quarter girls, the majority between ten and 14 years old.

A permanent deacon and twelve friars were accused. 183 accused are priests. That is 4.17 percent of all priests who were under the personal responsibility of the Bishop of Münster in the period between 1945 and 2020.

If you also include those accused who are said to have committed an act before or after their time in the Münster diocese or whose accusations became known after 2020, the number increases by 14 more people. Under these criteria, one arrives at a total of 210 accused clerics.

In addition, it is “by no means only to do with individual acts”. In 40 percent of the cases that have become known, there is more than one person affected. In addition, about five percent of the cases can be attributed to “real serial offenders” with more than ten minors affected.

The behavior often had no consequences. Only 15 of the accused clerics found evidence of criminal convictions or the issuing of a criminal order. More than 90 percent of the accused have not been prosecuted.

The authors of the study reported mostly massive acts of abuse with significant psychological consequences for the victims, including depression and suicidal thoughts. Indications of suicide attempts were found in 27 of the named abuse victims in the diocese of Münster. Powroznik said priests have repeatedly reinterpreted the abuse as a “godly” act.

Bishop Felix Genn of Münster wants to comment on the study next Friday. The study organizers accused Genn, who has been bishop in Münster since 2009, of omissions. If an abuser has shown remorse, Genn has not always acted consistently in terms of canon law.

Only recently has Munster been taking consistent action. The researchers made massive accusations against the late Bishop Reinhard Lettmann, who had repeatedly used priests in pastoral care, who were also known to be pedophiles.