Many devout Catholics in Europe feel that church doctrine and social reality have drifted too far apart - and that it’s time for a change.
But no matter who is chosen as the new pope, it won’t be enough to spur Chris Fischer to return to the parish pews.
“For me it’s over, it’s really over. Because I think there are so many things they [the Catholic Church] have to change,” he says, taking a deep breath and gazing out the window of a restaurant near the Munich Cathedral.
Fischer and countless others say they have been victimized twice. First, by priests or nuns who sexually or physically abused them. Second, by a church structure that protected the perpetrators and has been slow to offer help and healing to the victims.
Fischer was 12 years old when he was sent to a boarding school in southern Germany run by a Vatican missionary order.
“The sexual abuse usually took place in the evening. The priest would come to our bed and … touched us,” Fischer says, haltingly and mostly in German, adding that he doesn’t remember all the details.
Chris Fischer says he and other boys were sexually abused by a priest at a boarding school in southern Germany more than 30 years ago. He's left the Catholic Church, but is watching the events in Rome with interest. Karen Pauls/CBC
“This happened over many, many years. And to many, many boys who were abused. The biggest problem for me was that I considered it as [personal] dedication, as love. But it of course had nothing to do with it, but rather … [the priest] just took what he wanted. And he left us boys behind, completely disturbed.”
Fischer, now 46, repressed memories of the abuse until three years ago. He left the Church and is now trying to find healing on his own.
“The Church cannot help me [in] processing the past. I don’t want any support from this Church as it stands now,” he says.