BERLIN — A report released Tuesday found that at least 547 former members of Germany’s most storied Catholic choir for boys were physically or sexually abused, the latest revelation in a case that has roiled the Domspatzen choir in Regensburg, led for many years by the brother of Pope Benedict XVI, Georg Ratzinger.
The abuse was carried out by priests and teachers at the prestigious choir in southeast Germany, according to a lawyer, Ulrich Weber, who was tasked with carrying out an independent investigation. All told, he discovered 500 cases of physical abuse and 67 cases of sexual abuse.
Claims of misconduct spilled into public view in 2010, amid charges across the continent that the Roman Catholic Church had turned a blind eye to the mistreatment of young boys. The controversy has proved especially fraught for Germany, where Benedict served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. After that, he led the branch of the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for examining allegations of abuse.
The alleged wrongdoing dates from 1945 to 1992, Weber wrote in his 440-page report, though much of it was concentrated in the 1960s and 1970s, when Ratzinger was in charge. Weber has said he had to “assume” the pope’s brother, who led the choir from 1964 to 1994, knew of sexual abuse, though Ratzinger, now 93, has denied this.
The former choir director told German media in 2010 that he had slapped pupils in the face but was unaware of the level of brutality described by victims.
“Pupils told me on concert trips about what went on, but it didn’t dawn on me from their stories that I should do something,” Ratzinger said. “I ask the victims for forgiveness.”
At the same time, Ratzinger has called it “insane” to scrutinize every wrongdoing over the past half-century, noting that corporal punishment was once widely practiced.
But Weber’s conclusions point to a more systematic form of mistreatment. He found that 49 teachers and church officials bore responsibility for turning life at the choir, and the associated boarding school, into “hell,” as victims described it. For many, Weber wrote, their stay at the school was “the worst time of their lives, characterized by fear, violence and hopelessness.”
The Catholic Church in Regensburg did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Speaking at a news conference Tuesday morning, Michael Fuchs, a vicar general, said the church must play a more active role in future investigations.
“We could have done a lot better,” he said, according to a German public broadcaster.
Because many of the incidents described occurred decades ago, the cases can no longer be tried in German courts.
Weber’s first report, in early 2016, found that 231 young boys had been abused. That was triple the number published by the Regensburg diocese the previous year. The figures released Tuesday are higher still.
Alexandra Rojkov contributed to this report.