The secret of confession has existed since the thirteenth century and is probably the oldest data protection regulation in legal history.

Originally a milestone in Christian pastoral care, it was also turned into its opposite, for example when the confessional - place of confession of sins and absolution - became a shelter for perpetrators from their own ranks, who made their victims docile there.

In his 2012 documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa", Oscar winner Alex Gibney was one of the first to reconstruct in minute detail how the church dealt with cases of child abuse: the main thing is that nothing becomes public, the main thing is that the church is not harmed, the main thing is that the priesthood is in good hands not in discredit.

Sandra Kegel

Responsible editor for the feuilleton.

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The systematic cover-up of these crimes by church representatives, which was put into perspective by Pope Emeritus Benedict in 2019, has shaken the institution to its foundations in recent years - and is the unspoken foil on which Steven Uhly's new book, "The Sum of the Whole ', is to be read.

In it we meet a Spanish padre who sits in his wooden confessional in the parish church of Hortaleza, on the outskirts of Madrid, every afternoon except Sunday, waiting for sinners to pour out their hearts to receive absolution.

The ritual is as predictable to the priest as the masses, weddings and funerals that otherwise structure his days.

Roque de Guzmán settles theft, taking advantage or an infidelity with ten penitential prayers and three Our Fathers.

He knows most of the penitents personally, even if the dividing wall with the close-meshed speech grille is supposed to guarantee anonymity.

When Bogoño Jiménet Rodgríuez sits down, the priest knows that the man has hit his wife again, José María Espín's visit reliably follows an adultery, and Señora Barros demands forgiveness when she has cursed her husband once again, even though he is long gone the dead dwells.

absolution for abominations

The churchman also grants absolution to the three parishioners who regularly beat their wives to the point of hospitalization.

This Wednesday, however, everything is different when a stranger enters Guzmán's confessional and sighs.

He can hardly produce more than a few scraps of words, which, however, already give reason to fear the worst before he flees the place again.

In the days that follow, the stranger's visit will be repeated in a similarly mysterious manner, not only igniting the priest's interest, but also igniting his own repressed story in the most sinister way.

In this story, the writer Steven Uhly, born in Cologne in 1964 to a German mother and a Bengali father, goes to the country of his Spanish stepfather, with whom he grew up.

Uhly also trained as a translator in Spain before studying Hispanic Studies, later to head the German Institute of the Federal University of Pará in Belém, Brazil, before returning to Germany.

After his fictional autobiography "Mein Leben in Aspik" (2010) in the tradition of the picaresque novel, the family chronicle "Twilight Kingdom" (2014) or the manuscript fiction "Den blinden Göttern" (2018), in the course of which the boundaries between genres and realities increasingly blurred, "The Sum of Things" turns out not to be a novel, as can be read on the cover,