How are the mighty fallen. Archbishop whose whose failure overshadows everything else.

Robert Zollitsch turns 85: Failure to deal with abuse overshadows his work

Robert Zollitsch became a bishop late in life. As the Freiburg Abuse Study 2023 showed: During his tenure, he systematically covered up abuse. Zollitsch has fallen deeply. The portrait of a churchman whose failure overshadows everything else.

His portrait in the diocese headquarters has been taken down, the former Bishop's conference president has returned his state decorations and Robert Zollitsch will not be buried in the cathedral, the first Archbishop of Freiburg in decades for whom this is not the case.

Cover-up of abuse

His life's work, his steep church career and his merits as chairman of the Bishops' Conference are only marginal notes on his 85th birthday on 9 August. His failure to deal with victims of sexualised violence by priests, his cover-up strategies and the protection of perpetrators weigh too heavily.

As archbishop, Robert Zollitsch ignored victims of abuse

Zollitsch's actions are revealed in detail in the report on abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Freiburg, which experts published in spring 2023 after years of research. The documentation accuses the long-time Archbishop of Freiburg of multiple breaches of the law. For example, he deliberately failed to initiate ecclesiastical criminal proceedings against perpetrators.

Protection of perpetrators, indifference towards victims

The most serious accusation is that Zollitsch made further sexualised violence and abuse possible in the first place. By not stopping the accused or convicted. Instead, he quietly transferred them to other parishes, where minors were again victims. Zollitsch did not listen to the victims, they found no help or support from him.

Because of active abuse cover-up: Robert Zollitsch will be denied a funeral in Freiburg Cathedral.

After a long silence, Zollitsch had addressed the victims in a video statement at the end of 2022. He admitted serious mistakes and moral guilt, but did not go into specific cases. He had underestimated the extent of abuse and suffering. Therefore, he asked for forgiveness - and added that he knew not to expect an acceptance of this apology.

Half-hearted apology

Actually, these were clear words. But the end of the video prevented the public from appreciating the admission of guilt. In the video, Zollitsch describes himself as a person who cleared up the matter, even in the face of opposition - also in contact with the Vatican. However, the abuse report documents that he ignored rules as bishops' conference chairman - and, for example, reported almost no perpetrators to the Vatican.

After retiring as archbishop in 2014, Zollitsch lived in seclusion in his flat behind the cathedral. He no longer attended official appointments. A few months ago, Zollitsch moved to an assisted living facility in Mannheim, the city where he had spent part of his childhood.

War traumas and flight to Germany

Born on 9 August 1938 in Filipovo in the former Yugoslavia, Zollitsch had to watch as a child how Tito partisans murdered his brother and 200 other villagers in November 1944. "I had to go through the terrible experiences of war, flight and expulsion. I know how it feels when armed soldiers try to force mothers with their children to get on a truck to be deported to the camp. And I also know what it means to have to build a new existence in a foreign environment," he once reported.

Zollitsch's early childhood was marked by the horrors of the Second World War.

Zollitsch fled to Mannheim with his parents and, after graduating from high school, initially thought about studying literature or history. But the vocation to become a priest was stronger. "I wanted to help other people to lead a meaningful life in faith," he said in retrospect. Zollitsch remained true to his love of literature, such as Heinrich Böll and Günther Grass.

Late appointment to the bishop's chair

For 20 years, Zollitsch was head of personnel at the Archdiocese of Freiburg, where he organised pastoral care. In 2003, at the age of 64, he was unexpectedly appointed bishop. As head of the Archdiocese, too, he quickly gained a reputation as an organiser who had an impact beyond diocesan borders: Zollitsch took over the post of head of finance in the Association of Dioceses (VDD), which manages the common funds of dioceses nationwide.

In 2008, the bishops elected him chairman of their conference after Cardinal Karl Lehmann - who had also recently been sharply criticised for covering up abuse - resigned from the post for health reasons. A role with great public charisma.



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