A Roman Catholic priest in Germany is facing backlash over a sermon urging parishioners to forgive pedophile priests.
About 70 parishioners stormed out of Holy Spirit Church of Münster in northwest Germany on Sunday, after realizing what exactly the Rev. Ulrich Zurkuhlen was asking them to do, Deutsche Welle reported.
The retired, 79-year-old priest was apparently attempting to preach about the importance of forgiveness in Christianity, using examples from the Bible to insist that pedophile priests deserve to be forgiven, too.
Zurkuhlen’s words did not sit well with parishioners, some of whom were reportedly victims of clerical abuse themselves. Members of the congregation started arguing with Zurkuhlen while he was preaching. The situation escalated quickly, which led to a crowd of angry parishioners walking out.
During an interview with Kirche-und-Leben (Church and Life), a news site for the Diocese of Münster, Zurkuhlen described the parishioners as a “screaming mob.” He bemoaned the fact that he wasn’t able to finish the sermon and get across his point.
Zurkuhlen complained about bishops referring to predator priests as “criminals,” even if the men were otherwise good at their jobs.
“Nobody is just profoundly evil,” the priest told Kirche-und-Leben. “Goodness and guilt are often combined with each other or stand side by side without touching.”
He added that the congregation’s reaction was a “real shock.”
Zurkuhlen’s sermon comes during a grim period for the global Roman Catholic Church, as it faces a renewed reckoning over clerical sexual abuse. High-profile abuse scandals have recently toppled prominent figures in the U.S., Australia and Chile.
Last September, a report commissioned by the German Bishops Conference concluded that at least 3,677 minors were abused by 1,670 Catholic clerics between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were age 13 or younger.
The Rev. Stefan Rau, the congregation’s lead pastor, told Kirche-und-Leben that he regrets Zurkuhlen’s comments. The bishop of Münster, Felix Genn, has reportedly asked Zurkuhlen to stop preaching.
Rau said he believes forgiveness isn’t the duty of abuse victims.
“I always try to give my colleagues in the pastoral team encouragement,” Rau said. “But this was not possible this time.”