Bare bum is common

Canisius College : Slaps on the bare bottom in front of the class

The Catholic Jesuit order does not come to rest, the former students of its high schools are also worried about the past. More and more ex-students of the Canisius-Kolleg get in touch, want to talk about their time in the house. One of them reports that students were called to the Father's office for no apparent reason. That's why there were rumors - including about sexual acts. Corporal punishment, on the other hand, was quite open, even after it was banned in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1973.

A former employee reported to the Tagesspiegel about a “rigid mood” and an oppressive climate. Today, 41 years old, Daniel Müller * graduated from the Canisius College, where he was a student from 1979 to 1989. “In principle, there were rumors throughout school,” says Müller. They were especially aimed at one of the priests. One of his classmates received tutoring from this teacher, "and there must have been something". However, the classmate never talked about it - probably out of fear.

One person affected, who also responded to the current letter from Rector Klaus Mertes, says he was abused several times by one of the two now accused. This father exerted strong psychological pressure on him, so that the abuse dragged on for years. The incidents had a major impact on his school days there - but at the time he did not speak to anyone about it. Later the man, who still lives in Berlin, sought therapeutic help.

Another ex-high school student who works in middle management in a large company in Berlin today speaks of “real sadists” among the teachers at the school. The man reports that the two secular teachers, of all people, who do not belong to the order, were decent. Teachers who are not currently criticized for abuse would also have beaten. Among other things, a religion teacher who has since died apparently became violent several times in the 1960s. It was customary to lay students with their bare bums over their knees in front of the whole class and to "thrash" them. But there was also a corps spirit among students.

A former principal also talks about his time at the elite high school. When Hermann Breulmann moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1996 and started at the Canisius College, he did not ask whether there had ever been any cases of abuse. “If I were to take over a school today, I would of course ask that and have files shown to me. But in the mid-1990s we didn't even have the topic on our radar in Germany, "says Breulmann, who now works at the Jesuit Church of St. Michael in Munich. He had been to the USA a lot in the previous years. They were already more sensitive there back then. “I took note of that with interest, but put it down as typically USA.” Can he imagine why such offenses went undetected for years? Was there too much a look the other way within the school? Or within the entire order?

When he came to the Canisius College, the school was already a very special "biotope", says Father Breulmann, "perhaps comparable to the Landowsky CDU" - an allusion to the closed, authoritarian character of the West Berlin Christian Democrats. The teachers often went to school as children, then studied in Berlin and finally became teachers at the college themselves again. Apparently the Jesuits already knew each other - the rectors before him, Breulmann, had all come from Berlin and the eastern province of the order. Within this narrow, self-circling “biotope” “perhaps looking the other way was also encouraged,” said Breulmann. He was the first rector to come from West Germany, around the same time as Father Klaus Mertes, the current rector, who came from Bonn in 1994. Many processes at the school were opaque, says Father Breulmann, which is why he set up transparency and clear procedural rules, for example if a student should be dismissed.

Breulmann knew that Father Wolfgang S. asked for his release from the order in 1991. But he assumed that a woman was the reason. Father Breulmann said he had no idea that the offenses committed could have played a role in leaving the country and leaving for South America.

It was only on Thursday last week that the phone rang for the then rector of the college, Karl-Heinz Fischer, in Emmerich am Rhein, in the far west of Germany. Father Fischer picked up the receiver and learned from an old friend in Berlin what was new in the capital.

Fischer was director of the Canisius College from 1981 to 189, and again in the 1990s for two years. During his tenure, one of the two abusive perpetrators, Peter R., worked at the college. Today Fischer is 85 years old and heads the Catholic Stanislaus College in Hoch Elten, also a retreat house of the Jesuit order. It was new to him that there had been abuse of students by teachers at the Canisius College, said Fischer. But he could not rule that out - in his time as head of the college he was hardly concerned with the youth and school sector, but more with administration and technology. Since he left the college, he has no longer had any contact with the teachers and students there.

According to Fischer, however, he knew about the circular from the current college leader, Father Klaus Mertes, to 600 former students calling for them to report incidents, although not the exact time when the letter was sent. He considers Mertes ’efforts to educate people to be good, and clarification and adjustment are important. He was astonished that 15 more victims reported on Friday after the first seven cases of abuse became known, said Fischer and raised concerns that there might also be followers among them. He does not rule out that “those who want to make themselves interesting”.

* Name changed

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