A top Catholic cardinal admitted on Sunday that documents that could have contained proof of abuse in the Catholic Church were destroyed, or never even drawn up.
The comments came from the Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich. He also is president of the German bishops’ conference.
He spoke during a historic Vatican summit focused on combating clergy sexual abuse.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created,” Marx said. “The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution offences were deliberately not complied with, but instead cancelled and overridden.”
A member of Pope Francis’ inner circle, Marx is one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church today.
Marx made his remarks on the third day of the conference, which had the theme of “transparency.”
The cardinal said transparency could help the church combat the sexual abuse crisis that continues to engulf it, but also said “traceability” was crucial to allow victims and Catholics to follow abuse cases as they develop. Marx said the church’s administration had left victims’ rights “trampled underfoot” and “made it impossible” for the worldwide institution to fulfill its mission.
“Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them,” the cardinal said.
In a press conference following the session, Marx said that the information about destroying files came from a study commissioned by German bishops in 2014. The study was “scientific” and did not name the particular church leaders or dioceses in Germany that destroyed the files.
He said he had no information about other dioceses destroying files, but that he doubts the practice was limited to German dioceses.
“I assume Germany is not an isolated case,” Marx said.
The four-day summit of 190 Catholic leaders, including 114 bishops from around the world, will conclude Sunday with an address by Pope Francis.
On Thursday, at the beginning of the unprecedented summit, Francis urged the bishops to take “concrete measures” to combat the clergy abuse scandal.