In 2000 I organized a trip to Germany for my sons’ scout troop. I had attended conferences in Eichstätt for several years and knew the area, so we spent most of our time there.
Ever since Anglo-Saxon missionaries came to convert their pagan brethren, the prince-bishops of Eichstätt have enjoyed a long run of good taste and great wealth, and the city shows it. Almost everything except the medieval cathedral was destroyed by the Swedish army in the Thirty Years War, but the prince-bishops rebuilt their city in a small-scale, Italianate, baroque style. It is a jewel, and even our adolescent boys were impressed by the extraordinary beauty of the town and countryside. Bishop Walter Mixa gave us a tour of his palace and his private chapel one afternoon. We were some of the few Americans who ever visited Eichstätt; we were also the troop of the Baltimore Cathedral, the cathedral of Cardinal Keeler, who at that time was well-connected to Pope John Paul, because Keeler was very important in Catholic-Jewish relations.
After the trip we asked the scouts what they liked best about Eichstätt. It was not the castles, or the beer machines, or the city festival. They said that for the first time in their lives (they had all grown up in Baltimore) they felt completely safe.
They may have been safe, but not all the boys of Eichstätt were.
Mixa has always been disliked by the progressive wing of the German Church. He has made some strong statements about abortion (statements with which I agree) but he had also come down harshly on violators of canon law and church policies. One of his priests, Bernhard Kroll, was asked to preach at a Protestant church during an official ecumenical day. That was allowed, and the priest did it, and was so moved by the atmosphere that he received communion. Intercommunion is not allowed, for many good reasons, and Mixa should have called in the priest for a talk to explain that that he should not anticipate reunion, but patiently for all the problems to be straightened out. Instead Mixa came down on him like a ton of bricks.
Benedict liked Mixa’s approach. In making his first appointment to a German see, Benedict moved Mixa from Eichstätt to Augsburg, with its 1,500,000 Catholics. Bishop of Eichstätt, military bishop (which involved an odd incident with a briefcase full of money), Bishop of Augsburg: Mixa was on the way up.
In March 2010 Walter Mixa was accused of beating children in the Kindersheim at Schrobenhausen, where Mixa was a pastor from 1975 to 1996. He admitted he may have slapped miscreants a few times, but that is not how one of his victims remembers it. The boy was the youngest of eleven children of negligent parents: they ran in the streets all night. The state removed the children and placed them in institutions. The boy ended up at St. Joseph’s Kindersheim in Schrobenhausen. He admitted he was a difficult child, a bed-wetter and sleep-walker. The nuns spanked him with their shoes, they sent him to bed without dinner and locked him in a windowless room. They threatened him with Satan and hellfire, and after 1975 with the pastor, Walter Mixa.
Mixa habe sie an den Ohren in die Klausur gezogen, sagt er, immer einzeln, und dann wurde die Tür geschlossen. Der Junge habe auf die Knie fallen müssen, ein reuiger Sünder, und dann krempelte der Pfarrer die Ärmel hoch. Er habe mit der bloßen Hand, aber auch mit dem Stock geschlagen.
Die Schläge, die Einsamkeit, die ständige Angst. An den Sonntagen musste er nach dem Gottesdienst in seiner Festtagskleidung stundenlang im Besucherraum des Heimes auf seine Eltern warten, die nicht kamen. Anschließend sagten ihm die Schwestern: Siehst du, dein Vater ist ein Taugenichts.
Es klingt alles wie aus einem Dickens-Roman, aber es spielt in den siebziger und achtziger Jahren, in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Es ist kaum zu glauben.
The hand of Walter Mixa
Mixa pulled them by the ear into the cloister, he said, ever alone, and then the door was shut. The boy had to fall on his knees, a penitent sinner, and then the pastor pulled up his sleeve. Mixa hit him with his hand and also with a stick. .
The beatings, the loneliness, the continuous anxiety. On Sundays after mass he had to wait in the visitors’ room of the Home for hours dressed in his Sunday best, wait for his parents, who never came. Afterwards the sisters told him: See, your father is a good-for-nothing.
It sounds like something out of a Dickens’ novel, but it happened in the 1970s and 1980, in the Federal Republic of German. It is hard to believe
There were also allegations that Mixa had used money that belonged to the Kindersheim for unusual purchases:
The irregularities in the foundation’s books include € 7,500 Euros for various valuable items and € 20,000 to equip a chapel. Mixa purchased a forged Piranesi engraving from a forger in Rome for over € 20,000 (actual value: € 2,000) and a late-Gothic crucifix with two renaissance angels for € 30,250. He purchased a tanning couch for € 3,000 Euros and his own bishop’s ring – a “farewell gift” to the departing priest in 1996 – for € 19,000 without approval from the parish council. He additionally ordered wine for € 2,600 and three cork screws at nearly € 100 each.
Furthermore, Mixa was known to drink with boys until the boys became intoxicated. He also liked to invite the young seminarians in Eichstätt to share his private sauna with him (he did not show us that room! – and, to the surprise of Americans, even public hotel saunas in Germany are used by all in the nude). In certain circles Mixa had the nickname of “Monsi” (from Monsignor).
A former altar boy, now a doctor, knew Mixa, and described him as the consummate careerist and narcissist:
“Der Mann hat eine narzisstische Persönlichkeitsstörung”, sagt der Arzt. “Der ist schon damals den ganzen Tag mit Soutane und diesem Hütchen rumgelaufen. Der wollte schon als Stadtpfarrer Bischof sein. Es musste immer pompös sein und volkstümlich. Die Mischung kommt bei vielen gut an. Der hatte ein gutes soziales Gedächtnis. Wie geht’s dem Fuß? Was machen die Kinder? Er merkte sich jeden Namen. Und auch die Ministrantenfahrten waren ja immer sehr ausgelassen. Wir waren regelrecht mit Wein abgefüllt. Ich war zum ersten Mal in meinem Leben richtig betrunken, als ich mit Mixa unterwegs war. Und dann am Lagerfeuer hat er uns erzählt, dass Selbstbefriedigung millionenfacher Mord sei. Diese Mischung aus Verklemmtheit und Ausgelassenheit fand ich unerträglich, aber er hat damit jede Menge Leute begeistert. Ich glaube, es gab nirgendwo so viele Ministranten, die später Priester geworden sind, wie unter Mixa. Das kam natürlich in Rom gut an.”
“The man [Mixa] has a narcissistic personality disorder,” said the doctor. “He was always going around the whole day with cassock and this little hat. As soon as he became pastor he wanted to be bishop. He always had to be grandiose and folksy. A lot of people liked this mixture. He has a good social memory. “How is it with the foot? What are the children doing?” He remembered every name. And the altar boy outings were always boisterous. We regularly got sloshed with wine. For the first time in my life I was really drunk when I was out with Mixa. And then by the campfire he told us that masturbation is million-fold murder. I found this mixture of inhibition and boisterousness unbearable, but with it he inspired a lot of people. I believe that nowhere were there so many altar boys who later became priests as under Mixa. Naturally that went over well in Rome.”
When Mixa proffered his resignation immediately after the March 2010 accusation that he had beaten children, I suspected that something else would surface. After all, he could have said (perhaps truthfully) that the boys were headed for deep trouble, and better to punish them harshly than let them drift into a life of drugs and crime.
Altogether not a flattering portrait of a conservative bishop: man with an ambitious, self-centered, controlling personality, with a taste for luxury and alcohol and a penchant for misusing orphans’ money. Therefore it was not a surprise when the German police revealed that the Church hierarchy had informed them that someone in Eichstätt had accused Mixa of sexual abuse. The Vatican had known about the accusations since mid-April. On May 8 the Pope accepted Mixa’s resignation.
Mixa is in Switzerland at a clinic for alcoholism.
One poll reports that 25% of German Catholics are planning to resign officially from the Church – taking with them the 8% of their income tax that goes to the Catholic Church in Germany, and thence to the Vatican.
UPDATE: MAY 13 2010
The Frankfurter Allgemeine reports that the States Attorney in Ingolstadt after a preliminary investigation has determined that Bishop Mixa is no longer under suspicion of sexual abuse of a minor.