How a Molesting Case Emerged Decades Later in Germany

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The case that has raised questions about the future pope’s handling of a pedophile priest in Germany came to light three decades after it occurred, and then almost by chance. It happened when Wilfried Fesselmann, an early victim, said he stumbled on Internet photographs of the priest who sexually abused him, still working with children.

Mr. Fesselmann, who had long remained silent about the abuse he suffered in 1979, said the pictures stunned him and spurred him to contact his abuser. Thus began the convoluted process, which included an extortion investigation against Mr. Fesselmann for the emotionally raw e-mail messages he sent the church in 2008 demanding compensation, that ultimately put Pope Benedict XVI in an uncomfortable spotlight.

After the police investigated him for blackmail, Mr. Fesselmann did not discuss his charges publicly until last month. By that time, molesting of children by other priests had exploded into public view in Germany, with scores of investigations into old and new cases capturing headlines nationwide.

The fact that it took so long before the Roman Catholic Church took action against the abusive priest, and that the victim initially had to defend himself, is an indication that the German church — as well as Germany’s police, courts and society at large — are still in the early stages of reckoning on a psychologically fraught issue that many Germans once dismissed as an American problem....

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