Good news (rara avis) from Austria.
I have written yesterday that a criminal investigation against both Cardinal Schoenborn and the director of the Pontifical Mission Society, Dr. Leo Maasburg, had started. I remind you here of how things work in Continental Europe: the police cannot stop, or decide not to start, a criminal investigation; whenever an individual files charges against someone, an investigation must start. If it turns out that there is no crime, the investigation is then discontinued (or as they say in Italy, “archived”).
This is what has happened (with laudable speed, I must add) in the case mentioned above. Vienna’s Staatsanwaltschaft (the prosecution office) has now made publicly known that the investigation has been discontinued for the following reasons:
a) statute of limitations
b) facts did not constitute a criminal behaviour in the first place.
This is good news, as the principle that a quisque de populo can wake up, say, fifteen years after a fact and say that the one or other religious should have done more on this or that occasion, and that by not doing so he has acted criminally, has not been accepted. Besides the obvious fact of the statute of limitations (which as an institution does make sense, even if at times it hurts the feelings of the most sensitive souls), it stands to reason that it isn’t reasonable to expect from a third party a behaviour (going to the police and filing charges) that one is free, but not willing to put in place oneself.
In this case, the behaviour of the woman who filed the charges is – as it transpires from kath.net, unfortunately in German – even more absurd than that, but I spare you the embarrassing details.
In my alarm, I have written yesterday:
if what has happened justifies a criminal case God save us all: every adult would now be able to come out and ask for money because hey, twenty years ago he mentioned something to a priest and he hey, did not run immediately to the police. A nightmare.
I am now glad to report that reason has not only prevailed, but that it has prevailed with great speed.
Kudos to the Austrian prosecutors for acting so speedily.
In Austria there very probably is, like the rest of Continental Western Europe the obligation from the prosecutors to open an investigation wherever criminal charges are pressed. It is not like in the Anglo-Saxon countries where, say, the police can decide not to proceed. The investigation must start and then, if considered unfounded, it can be archived – but the matter will now take its course anyway.
There would seem to be two separate episodes. Again, the news from “Nachrichten.at” is fragmentary and rather confused.
A) A Girl is sexually abused by a Franciscan in 1984; ten years later she says this to Schoenborn; Schoenborn does not denounce the Franciscan to the police, but the man is not allowed to teach anymore, it i snot clear to me whether now in 2011 or then, in 1994. It is also not clear to me whether this is the episode in question – I’d rather think not – but the way the matter has emerged until now this seems to me to be absurd to even consider. The lady is 45 now and therefore she was 28 in 1994; unless she is not able to think for herself, she was perfectly able to press all the charges she wanted triggering, as already said, an inevitable investigation. I can’t imagine that in 1994 there was an obligation in Austria to go to the police when informed of such an episode. Again, the man admitted the charges and is not allowed to teach; whether this happened in 1994 or only just now is not very clear.
B) In what would appear to be a separate episode, in 1994 the same lady would have been sexually assaulted by the Director of the Pontifical Mission Society, Leo Maasburg. She would have spoken to Schoenborn asking him to do something about it, that is: to talk directly to Maasburg. Whether Schoenborn talked to Maasburg or not, he didn’t go to the police and today, seventeen years later, the lady presses charges against Maasburg and Schoenborn and accuses Maasburg of “sexuelle Noetigung”, “sexual assault” and – I gather – Schoenborn of “not having prevented the crime” (if this is the crime we are talking about; which by the mixture of facts with the Franciscan above is not clear, either). Once again, the lady could have gone to the police every day that God sent on earth in these last 17 years.
Schoenborn’s office says that: a) it is not true that the lady asked Schoenborn to put pressure on Maasburg; b) that the facts were at the time depicted in a much less serious way as they are now, and c) that the conversation happened during a confession (“Beichtgespraech”; literally, “confession discussion”).
The information is very fragmentary for now, rather confused and confusing and I will have to leave it at this until tonight, when hopefully better information will be available.
I wonder whether to both Cardinal Schoenborn and Leo Maasburg the same discipline will be applied that is used for countless priests – we know the recent famous case – accused of misconduct.
I also warn from Schadenfreude, rash judgement or demands for the man’s head. From the information available up to now, if what has happened justifies a criminal case God save us all: every adult would now be able to come out and ask for money because hey, twenty years ago he mentioned something to a priest and he hey, did not run immediately to the police. A nightmare.
Thankfully, in Continental European legal systems we do not have the “creative jurisprudence” I notice in the US, there are statutes of limitations, and people are generally not allowed to accuse third parties of not having used the brains they should have used themselves.
Just to make a comparison (Continental European legal system are all rather similar; it’s largely because of Napoleon), in Italy the obligation to go to the police and denounce a crime is given only in very few extremely grave cases, like the information that a terrorist attack is planned, or a coup d’etat. Everyone can, though, go to the police himself and at that point, a criminal investigation must start. Same in Germany. Same, I am rather sure, in Austria.
More on this in the evening.