World and Nation

Priest close to Pope is suspended in child molestation case

MUNICH — The priest at the center of a German sex-abuse scandal that embroiled Pope Benedict XVI continued working with children for more than 30 years, even though the pope was personally involved in his case and a German court convicted the priest of molesting boys.

The priest, Peter Hullermann, who had previously been identified only by the first initial of his last name, was suspended from his duties only on Monday. That was three days after the church acknowledged that the pope, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, had responded to early accusations of molestation by allowing the priest to move to Munich for therapy in 1980.

Hundreds of victims have come forward in recent months in Germany with accounts of sexual and other physical abuse from decades past. But no case has captured the attention of the nation like that of Hullermann, not only because of the involvement of the future pope, but also because of the impunity that allowed a child molester to continue to work with altar boys and girls for decades after his conviction.

Benedict not only served as the archbishop of the diocese where the priest worked, but also later as the cardinal in charge of reviewing sexual abuse cases for the Vatican. Yet until the archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced that Hullermann had been suspended on Monday, he continued to serve in a series of Bavarian parishes.

In 1980, the future pope reviewed the case of Hullermann, who was accused of sexually abusing boys in the Diocese of Essen, including forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The future pope transferred him to Munich. On Friday, a deputy took responsibility for allowing the priest to return to full pastoral duties shortly afterward. Six years later, Hullermann was convicted of sexually abusing children in the Bavarian town of Grafing. Hullermann’s identity was revealed Sunday, when a man whose marriage he was scheduled to perform in the spa town of Bad Toelz stood up in the pews and began shouting as the head of the congregation was speaking in vague terms about the scandal.

But even after the revelations of last week, parishioners there, where Hullermann had been working, described him glowingly calling him friendly, down to earth and popular with churchgoers, especially children and teenagers.

Hullermann’s story is one of a beloved priest with a damaging secret church officials helped him hide.