German cardinal says sexual assaults against women ‘cannot be tolerated’

BONN, Germany — Hundreds of sexual assaults committed against German women by migrants in a single night “can in no way be tolerated,” said the president of the German bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, gives a blessing Jan. 10 during a weeklong visit to Vietnam. (CNS photo | Kham, Reuters)

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising said that young women attending New Year’s Eve celebrations outside Cologne cathedral endured “inhuman treatment” at the hands of their attackers.

The cardinal’s remarks were made a week after the scandal that has deeply embarrassed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in 2015 permitted the entry of 1.1 million migrants into the country.

“The excesses in Cologne and other major cities are deeply disturbing for our society and can in no way be tolerated,” said Cardinal Marx in a Jan. 8 statement posted on the bishops’ conference website. “These new forms of violence and especially the inhuman treatment of women cannot be tolerated.

“All social forces must work together to prevent such incidents and ensure safety,” he said, adding that the church was committed to the development of a society of “mutual respect” between citizens.

Merkel has faced increasing criticism both at home and abroad for her migration policy after police received 500 criminal complaints from members of the German public on New Year’s Eve. About 200 allegations involved German women alleging they had been sexually assaulted.

Nineteen individuals are being investigated in connection with the assaults, and none of them is German.

A Jan. 11 North Rhine-Westphalia state’s Interior Ministry report into the scandal said the assailants were “almost exclusively” from a migrant background, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported, with most of them described as North African and Arab. The government report describes how about 1,000 men of North African and Arabic origin congregated on the square outside the cathedral and the railway station and said that smaller groups then formed.

Some of the groups surrounded German women before threatening and sexually assaulting them, said the North Rhine-Westphalia report.

According to the BBC, the report describes a modus operandi called “taharrush gamea,” an Arabic term for group sexual harassment, and says that similar scenes were also witnessed in Hamburg on New Year’s Eve.

The report, which has been published only in German, said that Germany had not witnessed robbery and group sexual violence of such magnitude. It said police had made “serious mistakes” because they had failed to act swiftly to protect the women and then attempted to play down the scale of the attacks in the days after the event.

Ralf Jaeger, the state’s interior minister, has already fired Wolfgang Albers as chief of police in Cologne over the conduct of the police.

The attacks have shocked Germany and triggered a backlash among anti-immigrant groups. They also sparked a wave of violent retaliatory attacks against migrants throughout Germany, with Pakistanis, Syrians and Guineans beaten in separate incidents.