Play deals with Catholic sex abuse

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An orphaned choir boy is abused by his Catholic priest, and grows up to be a troubled parent. That's the plot of a play that opened last month in Regensburg, Germany, just as that city's real-life clergy abuse scandal came to light. Susan Stone travels to the Bavarian city, where stunned audiences are considering their own tragic past.

MARCO WERMAN: Germany has been shaken by new allegations against Catholic clergy. Four Priests and two Nuns in the Bavarian city of Regensburg are accused of molesting students in the 1970's. Regensburg happens to be the former Diocese of Pope Benedict XVI who is facing a growing clergy abuse sandal across Europe and the U.S. It's also where an intense play that tackles the subject of pedophile Priests has been showing since February. The play is called The Confession. Susan Stone caught a recent performance and sent this story.

SUSAN STONE: In Regensburg a small, 88 seat Turntheater, a many clutching a sleeping young boy bursts onto the stage. The character's name is Martin. As a child he was molested by a Catholic Priest. Now he started abusing his own son, Sebastian. Martin's decided the only way out is for both of them to die, after he confronts his one time comforter and tormentor, father Eberhard. In a line that provokes a gasp from the audience, the Priest declares that many children have experienced this and grown up to be perfectly normal adults. I ask myself what's so terrible about it, he says, and offers to help with the boy. The suggestion does not sit well with Martin. Throughout the performance, the two men spar verbally and physically, climbing over a giant wooden cross that bisects the stage. It's an intense, uncomfortable hour. For audience members like 29-year-old Thomas Rother. Rother is Catholic and he has been thinking a lot about his church. He is not happy with it's response to new allegations of abuse.

INTERPRETER: What I find difficult is the cloak of silence. It seems like they'd rather cloak the whole issue in silence than find out the truth.

STONE: The timeliness of this topic has brought audience and attention to Theater Regensburg. Die Beichte, The Confession, was written by an Austrian, Felix Mitterer, inspired by events in Ireland. It was first performed in 2003 as a radio play. Theater Regensburg decided a year ago to schedule its production. The Confession premiered here in early February, around the same time as a series of new abuse revelations came to light. Miko Greza plays Father Eberhard.

INTERPRETER: That the right play came at the right time is for us, of course, in terms of our work, a stroke of luck that rarely happens in the theater. That at exactly this point in time, both nationally and internationally people had the courage to come forth and say this has happened. This has happened to me.

STONE: Greza has received letters from theater goers who say they appreciated his performance, but were too stunned at the end of the show to applaud. The theater's neighbors haven't had much to say though. Mikhael Haake, who plays Martin, points out the large church that sits just across the street. He says maybe you noticed the cathedral. It's very close. You can almost reach out and touch it from here. It's hard to escape religion in Regensburg. Churches are everywhere and a symphony of bells plays out several times a day. Stories of abuse are almost as inescapable right now. Sigrid Grabmeier's church reform organization Wir Sind Kirche, we are the church, has been concerned with these issues since 1995.

SIGRID GRABMEIER: Never before has sexual abuse and everything around been such a theme in public, and speaking about what happens with the victims. It has never been such a theme.

STONE: In 2002, Wir Sind Kirche started a hotline for victims of Priest abuse. So far, 400 people have called, 100 in just the past 6 weeks. Grabmeier says media coverage, and to some extent, the staging of the play have focused attention on stories that some would prefer to keep hidden.

GRABMEIER: If our society needs this pain then this play may be hurtful and helpful. And I hope that in many stages in Germany they play it. Not only here in Regensburg. I think that all the Bishops and a lot of people should see it.

STONE: The Confession ends its scheduled run tonight. But those Bishops and others will have one more chance to see the play. Theater Regensburg will do a special performance during the Bavarian Theater Festival in June. For The World, I'm Susan Stone, Regensburg, Germany.