I was a young altar boy in the small village of Haren-Erika. I absolved the entire Catholic Church program: baptism, confession, communion, confirmation, including abuse. The abuse scandal in Haren-Erika became public ten years later in 1996. The German magazine, Der Spiegel wrote:
„In the village of Haren-Erika near the Dutch border, the streets are straight as an arrow. Residents tolerate no weeds in their tidy flower beds and ornamental fencing in front of their houses is always freshly painted.
Another striking feature is a crucifix out of solid rock, which rises in front of Josef Bonnarens’ farm. Bonnarens is a sturdy early fifties guy in a plaid cotton shirt. He is one of the village patriarchs in Haren-Erika, but he’s also one of the key figures in a tragedy that was kept under wraps for nearly ten years, but has now hit the 1,000 villagers full force.
For years, the village priest of St. Mary’s Church sexually abused first communion children and altar boys. And Bonnarens knew.
But the man said nothing. And he, as well as the entire village, remains silent until this day.
The citizens of Haren-Erika wish that these terrible events had never happened, despite the culprit’s confessions. They don’t want to believe what had happened, what their former parish priest did. Alois Bruns, 64, was sentenced last Wednesday to two years imprisonment on probation. It’s a ridiculously light sentence. From 1987 to 1995, the priest admitted to have sexually harassed 14 local boys on 227 occasions, by stroking and touching them inappropriately. From the indictment, it was clear that was not all that had happened.
Initialy, there were more than 20 victims, but then some of the parents were suddenly ‘no longer interested in law enforcement,’ say the police. The faithful citizens of Haren-Erika had more respect for their church. Some saw the need to protect the clergy, declared Friedrich Lücken, lawyer for the parents. Finally, a general attitude developed which led to a feeling that the whole ordeal was ‘exaggerated’.
It all began in April 1987 when the news reached Bonnarens, who at the time was the deputy chairman of the Church Council. A relative of an eight-year-old boy had called and reported that the boy had been abused by the priest of St. Mary’s Church and that he was very distraught. The priest kept the child in the church after communion classes, sat him on his lap, pulled his down pants and underwear and touched his genitals.
’Reconsider your accusations well, if you want to continue living peacefully in Erika’, Bonnarens and the parish council chairman advised the parents unequivocally.”
I’m reminded of Mr. Bonnarens when I saw the recent press conference dealing with Milo Yiannopoulos.
In the village where I grew up, silence was considered a great virtue. Anyone who resisted the collective silence vow was quickly seen as a traitor. When, at the tender age of nineteen, I staged the theme at the village theater, the local newspaper wrote:
„Testing the Boundaries of Good Taste
„Gerd Buurmann, Christoph Lammers, Mella Ebel and Hanno Schulz, appearing for the second time at the school forum as the cabaret group ‚Kulturschock‘, performed a courageous three-hour show. (…) No subject, however taboo, was ‚too hot‘ for “Kulturschock”. The Nazi past is associated with a local occurrence when on November 9, 1992 a broom was placed in front of a shop in Haren which was meant to ward off Sinti and Roma; the pedophile past of a former pastor along with the attitude of church authorities was also staged. Children’s education, consumerism and the religious fear along with school history lessons, reality TV, talk shows, current city and federal politics were also included. The courage of the four Harenians in their hometown is admirable. Still, the symbolism in the performance was at times exaggerated and, in spite of artistic freedom, went beyond the borders of good taste.“
Indeed, good taste. Then and now I’m still at odds with “good taste” and I’m not silent, not then, not today. Speaking is not shameful. Silence in face of wrongdoing is shameful!
Often I’m asked about all the time and strength I’m able to muster to talk about these issues. The answer is always the same: It takes much more time and strength to remain silent!
I’m lucky. My parents were initially silent along with the village, but when I started talking, I gained their full support (thanks Mom and Dad). In addition, I had good friends in the village who stood by me (thanks Stefan, Anita and “Kulturschock”). There was also an older, gay couple who helped me to transform my fear and anger into something constructive and creative (thanks Horst and Günther). At the time, I learned that the opposite of war is not peace, it’s creation!
When I’m asked what I advise I have for those who’ve had such bad experiences, I reply with the following five short sentences: Don’t be silent. You are strong! It’s not your fault. Deprive the perpetrator of power. Refuse to be a victim.
That’s why I support Milo Yiannopoulos! We have a lot of differences. He says feminism is cancer, but I say feminism is sexy; he’s for Trump, I was for Clinton; he can’t laugh about Amy Schumer, but I do. But, in essential matters we ride the same wave: We don’t allow anyone to shut us up!
Milo Yiannopoulos speaks. He provokes and laughs. Yes, he talks a lot! No, he doesn’t trivialize. Those who spend one minute more with the words that come unfiltered from him than with the vicious words about him, will quickly realize that he’s not a racist or a sexist. Those accusations are scarlet letters, which are attached to him in a witch hunt mania, sometimes even by mainstream media. He’s a fool, indeed, but in the most beautiful and best sense of the word. He challenges us. He speaks. He’s not silent. And he’s a fighter!
He fights for our right not to be afraid to speak! It is the fear to speak openly that drives children into the hands of pedophile criminals. A child who is not afraid to articulate his or her feelings is the stronger for it!
Whoever wants to suppress other people will always try to control words. Words can make us laugh. The worst enemy of the oppressor is laughter. Laughter. Laughter unites us! Laughter makes us strong! Laughter is knowledge. How I’ve laughed with and at Milo!
Just among us pastor’s daughters: You give me confidence and strength. You’re fighting against what puts children like me in danger. You fight against silence. And that’s a helluva lot for childrens’ rights.
Are you always right? No. In my opinion, you sometimes drift far off course. Whether someone is right or wrong, I can only judge if that person speaks. You speak. I thank you for the fact that you take the topic of child abuse seriously and speak up. The greatest weapon in the hands of the perpetrators is a wall of silence. You tear that wall down. Thank you!
I recognize how serious you take the issue, because you’ve apologized to those people who’ve also been victims of child abuse and were hurt by your words. Nevertheless, you will not stop talking because silence, not the talking, would make you a victim.
But to anyone who claims you would approve of child abuse, I throw a cultivated „fuck you“. Your motivation is the exact opposite. Sex with children is one of the worst crimes that exists! And you are fighting that crime!
Many call you arrogant. But I know your arrogance is just a defense mechanism. Nevertheless, I have to scratch a bit on your ego:
Seriously, you brag as having blown a 29-year-old when you were eighteen. At 18, I had a 59-year-old. The 18-year-old Harold even had sex with a 79-year-old. Her name was Maude!
That love story was put on the National Film Registry in 1997. It ranked ninth among the best American love comedies of all time by the American Film Institute. And the film provoked people then no less than you do today!