A case now before the criminal courts of Germany involving a former high-ranking Vatican Monsignor reveals the alleged mishandling of credible allegations of sexual abuse within the Vatican’s own walls. Sat Sep 5, 2020 – 10:30 am EST
Sixth months after the revelations first surfaced in the Boston Globe, the US Bishops issued their “Dallas Charter.” While stipulating a zero-tolerance policy for sexually abusive priests, it came under criticism for failing to address the bishops’ own role in the scandal. The charter, which excluded responsibilities of bishops, was led by the then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Archbishop Wilton Gregory, then-President of the USCCB.
Pope John Paul II met with the U.S. Cardinals to address the issue in the wake of the scandal breaking in 2002 and then in 2004 with US Bishops. Pope Benedict XVI too had many meetings addressing the abuse scandal.
Nevertheless, the Vatican itself came under scrutiny for its handling of abuse early on as well. The reputation of Pope St. John Paul II’s pontificate was marred significantly as the revelations of sexual abuse by Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel came to light. A source close to Pope John Paul II told LifeSite that John Paul II could not bring himself to believe the accusations since Maciel masqueraded as a conservative, and in John Paul’s native Poland the Communists often accused faithful priests of sexual abuse so as to damage their reputations.
A group of eight former Legionary seminarians first went to the Vatican to lodge abuse complaints in 1998, but it took until 2006 for Maciel to be removed from all public ministry, and only after the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
Just prior to that, in late 2005 Benedict took decisive action to reaffirm a ban on homosexual men from seminary responding to the finding that the vast majority of abuse perpetrated by priests was homosexual in nature.
Nevertheless, it seems there was another homosexual abuse scandal playing out quietly inside the Vatican at the same time as Maciel. While Pope Benedict himself along with the rest of the Church was expressing public grief, meeting with abuse victims and promising reforms, those in high Vatican positions were using the same old playbook in mishandling credible allegations of sexual abuse within the Vatican’s own walls.
There is a case now before the criminal courts of Germany in which two priests allege gruesome sexual abuse at the hands of a then-senior official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Monsignor Christoph Kühn.
Monsignor Florian Kolfhaus and a second man – a former priest – both allege that Kühn violently compelled them into sexual masochistic acts.
Kolfhaus first lodged a complaint against Kühn at the Vatican in 2006. He testifies that his abuse took place inside the offices of the Secretariat of State, as well as inside the Casa Santa Marta, a residence for Vatican prelates.
But it appears no formal investigation was launched until 2019, in spite of the fact that the Report of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Delegate for the Pontifical Representations, was presented to the Superiors of the Secretariat of State on July 3, 2006.
The other priest has since become laicized and is now a practicing homosexual and LGBT activist. He has given his testimony for the Kolfhaus complaint that is currently underway in Germany. In the court files is also to be found a WhatsApp message (seen by LifeSite) from Kühn to him (from April 2017), in which the Monsignor offers some future financial support should the laicized priest help him to clear his name with regard to the allegations against him.
On Monday, September 7, Kolfhaus will have his first hearing at the Diocese of Eichstatt, Kühn’s home diocese.
Kühn was the head of the German Section of the Secretariat of State in the Vatican from 2001 till 2008. This position put him in charge of vetting priests and bishops from Germany for elevations, and as such he was privy to all the personnel records of these prelates. Being in such a high position and involved in the German church, Kühn was often in close contact with Pope Benedict XVI both after his 2005 election and prior to that in his role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
As head of the German Section until 2008, Kühn organized Benedict’s trips to Germany, traveled with him on the papal plane, and was often photographed side by side with him at official receptions such as that with German President Horst Kohler in 2005 during his visit to Cologne, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as well as the future Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Kühn’s reputation was conservative. As Kolfhaus explains in a denunciation to the Vatican as well as to the Diocese of Eichstätt in which he outlines the abuse, “Msgr. Kühn took interest in me personally, given the difficult work that he was about to undertake, namely radically changing the ‘political line’ of the Bishops’ Conference in Germany on the participation of the German bishops in the national system regarding abortion legislation. (The German dioceses – contrary to various directives given by the Holy See – participated in the state-run system, giving on request a certificate to women that was required in order to have a legal abortion. This conflict greatly polarized the Catholic Church in Germany.)”
Kolfhaus says he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Kühn from the end of 2003 until 2004 and has been reporting the abuse to different superiors in the Vatican and elsewhere since 2006. Through his lawyer, Dr. Alexander Stevens, Kolfhaus told LifeSite that he did not begin the legal process or go to the press with the abuse he suffered. Only after details of the abuse were reported by the German newspaper Die Bild in 2019, and police questioned Kolfhaus, did he act.
“When journalists or civil authorities come to me I have to answer truthfully, to lie here would be nothing other than covering up for the perpetrator,” Kolfhaus told LifeSite.
On January 22, 2020, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò provided testimony for the Church investigation into the case because from May 1998 till July 2009 he was the Delegate for the Pontifical Representations at the Secretariat of State, a position which was responsible for the personnel of the Roman Curia subordinate to the Substitute of the Secretary of State.
In Viganò’s testimony — which LifeSite confirmed with the Archbishop that he did indeed issue it — he states that he is “aware of precise information regarding the harassment and all kinds of abuses committed by Msgr. Christoph Kühn against Msgr. Florian Kolfhaus.”
Archbishop Viganò also notes that Kolfhaus informed various individuals of the abuse including a superior at the Secretariat of State and also a Bishop in charge of preparation of candidates for diplomatic service for the Vatican.
Archbishop Viganò also reports that now-Cardinal Pietro Parolin was informed as well. Parolin at the time was Undersecretary of the Section for the Relations with States of the Secretariat of State.
LifeSite reached out to Cardinal Parolin for comment via the Secretariat of State and, on August 24, received the following response from the Vatican Press Office: “As you are aware, the accusations pertaining to Mons. Kühn are being examined by canonical and civil authorities. Under these circumstances we are confident that you understand that at this time a comment is not appropriate.” The reply issued by the Vatican press office added, “In the meanwhile, we trust that you will make every effort to report the facts, and avoid speculation, on the case.”
According to Viganò’s knowledge, no official investigation was undertaken by July 2009 (when he ceased his duty as Delegate for the Pontifical Representations) to examine Kolfhaus’ reports of the abuse he suffered. Evidence which would have called for official investigation included: the report sent to the Secretariat of State by Archbishop Justo Mullor, President of the Pontifical Academy; a report of the Psychologist who returned a negative judgment on Kühn, dated June 14, 2006; and Viganò’s Note for the Substitute on July 3, 2006. Archbishop Viganò relates:
His Excellency Msgr. Mullor considered it his duty to inform his superiors at the Secretariat of State in writing about the confidences he had been told by Fr. Kolfhaus. Given the seriousness of the case, the President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy considered it opportune to submit the documents containing the confidences of Fr. Kolfhaus to the judgment of Fr. Bartholomew Kiely, S.J., Professor of Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, reticito nomine [removing names]. On the basis of this document, Fr. Kiely formulated a negative prognosis about the personality of Msgr. Kühn. (These documents too may be found in the Archives of the Secretariat of State).
Viganò’s testimony also calls into question the 2001 decision to have Kühn at the Vatican in the first place. He recounts that sexually scandalous behavior by Kühn was known to the Vatican as early as 1997 when Kühn was a priest in the Nunciature in Zimbabwe. Viganò relates:
Msgr. Christoph Kühn began his service on July 1, 1997, in the Apostolic Nunciature in Zimbabwe. During this, his first assignment, the Nuncio, His Excellency Msgr. Peter Prabhu, had to report some of the behavior of his collaborator [Kühn] that could have indicated his possible homosexual tendency. The Nuncio reported in February 1998 that on returning from a pastoral visit of several days, he was told that Fr. Kühn was very sick and that he [Kühn] wanted to see him [Prabhu] immediately. The Nuncio went to his room and knocked on the door. Kühn told him [Prabhu] to come in and revealed himself lying in his bed wearing only very skimpy panties. The Nuncio told him to get dressed and went away. Afterward, Kühn went from his bedroom to his office dressed in the same way, despite the admonition he had received, and then went down to the common area of the Nunciature in that same undressed state.
On another occasion during an encounter that lasted two hours in an Italian club, with the lights out as slides were projected, Fr. Kühn took a young blond boy about 9 or 10 years old and made him sit on top of him with his arms around the young boy.
In 2008, Kühn was moved by the Substitute then-Archbishop Fernando Filoni to Vienna to work in the nunciature (Vatican embassy).
Two sources close to Pope Benedict spoke anonymously to LifeSite about this matter, suggesting that Kühn was moved to Vienna because his scandalous sexual behavior (some believed to be consensual) became too well known. One said that the Pope moved Kühn knowing of the problems and even asked Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, to take Kühn into his diocese but Meisner refused. Another source stated: “When it became known that he [Kühn] had harassed various young men (among them also Kolfhaus), he was removed by Benedict XVI from the Vatican and sent to Vienna.” This source insisted, defending the Pope, that Benedict did personally intervene and that he punished Kühn two times by sending him into less important positions, first to Vienna (2008) and then to Eichstätt (2012), this time removing him from the diplomatic service.
Pope Benedict was the Roman Pontiff of the Catholic Church from 2005 until 2013.
Another source from Benedict’s circle however suggests that Benedict did not know of the matter and it was handled either by the then Secretary of State himself (now-Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) or the then-Substitute (now-Cardinal Fernando Filoni).
LifeSite reached out to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, via his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein, asking for comment, but did not receive a reply.
In the court files, currently with the State Attorney, a man who was employed in a high-ranking position by the diocese of Eichstätt sums up what he was told by higher-ups in the diocese concerning Kühn. He was warned to be “cautious” around Kühn “because of his somewhat difficult past.” When he asked for further information, both the finance director of the diocese and the Vicar General informed him that Kühn was known to have had some “unresolved encounters” during his station in Africa that were related to the “homosexuality of the prelate Kühn.” During his time in Vienna, they added, “it went so wild he was forbidden entrance into a hotel.”
According to this source, the Vicar General told him that the official reason for Kühn’s dismissal from Vienna was the “story with the hotel” as well as “additional non-consensual sexual contacts during his diplomatic stations.”
In the midst of this scandal in April 2011, Pope Benedict awarded Kühn a special designation as “Prelate of Honour of His Holiness,” a papal designation that often comes after a number of years of service in the diplomatic corps of the Vatican.
At the end of August 2012, Kühn was removed from the diplomatic service of the Vatican and was moved to his home diocese of Eichstätt in Germany where he was personally appointed Canon of the Cathedral by Bishop Gregor Hanke. That position, however, gained Kühn a much larger salary and notable position.
In April of 2019, accusations against Kühn were brought to the public by the German newspaper Die Bild. Only after this did Bishop Hanke of the Diocese of Eichstätt, who according to the Viganò testimony, had been informed of Kühn’s assaults previously, suspend Kühn from his duties. Kühn was also told only to celebrate private Masses; however, LifeSite found that in June of 2020, he celebrated a public Mass in the Diocese of Regensburg. Responding to a media request by LifeSite about this, the Diocese of Eichstätt merely pointed out that Kühn celebrated the Mass in a different diocese. The Diocese of Regensburg declined to comment.
LifeSite reached out to Monsignor Kühn with questions. In response, Kühn’s lawyer threatened a lawsuit should LifeSite report on the case. The response denied all charges and not only forbade reporting on the case but also further research into it.
Kühn publicly addressed the accusations for the first time in July 2020 after Italian Vaticanist Marco Tosatti published a translation of portions of a July 16, 2020, Die Bild article on the case on his blog. Kühn vehemently denied all charges. Moreover, Kühn claims that Kolfhaus’ lawyer Alexander Stevens is “a well known LGBTQ activist and supporter of the relative lifestyle and debauchery.”
Stevens told LifeSite Kühn’s accusation against him is false. “The prelate obviously doesn’t hesitate to even discredit the victim’s lawyer,” he wrote via email. “Here, in my opinion, Kuehn’s strategy is once again exposed: to neutralize the enemy by deliberate untruths.”
Canon law (1395) insists that “a cleric who persists with scandal in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished by a suspension. If he persists in the delict after a warning, other penalties can gradually be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.” Canon law experts have told LifeSite that much of the problem leading to the Church sex abuse scandals has been the ignorance of and refusal to apply canon law.
Dr. Maike Hickson contributed to this report