Topic: Sexual abuse

Steps taken by the German Bishops’ Conference

Since the cases of abuse in facilities of the Catholic Church became public at the end of January 2010, the German Bishops’ Conference has taken a large number of steps on the basis of the resolution which was passed at the spring full assembly in 2010:

  • The Bishop of Trier, Dr Stephan Ackermann was nominated as the Commissioner on Abuse for the German Bishops’ Conference in February 2010.
  • The „Office for questions relating to the sexual abuse of minors in the ecclesial domain“ of the German Bishops’ Conference took up its work in March 2010. Shortly after this, the Catholic Church’s free nationwide telephone hotline was launched with online advice (www.hilfe-missbrauch.de) for the victims of sexual abuse.
  • From April 2010 to November 2011, representatives of the Catholic Church participated in the Federal Government’s “Sexual abuse of children” roundtable, which presented its final report at the end of 2011.

Furthermore, the following measures in particular should be emphasised:

 

Guidelines of the German Bishops’ Conference

The 2002 Guidelines of the German Bishops’ Conference for dealing with sexual abuse of minors have been extended. The revised version entitled “Guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse of minors by clergy, religious and church staff of the German Bishops’ Conference” entered into force on 1 September 2010 for three years on an ad experimentum basis.

By circular letter of 16 May 2011 addressed to all Bishops’ Conferences, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced principles to assist in developing guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors. The 2010 Guidelines of the German Bishops’ Conference are in compliance with these.

Prevention

At the end of September 2010, the autumn full assembly enacted the Framework Regulation entitled “Prevention of the sexual abuse of minors within the domain of the German Bishops’ Conference” for three years on an ad experimentum basis. It aims to create an awareness among all within the Church, and to enable them to recognise signs of sexual abuse and to deal with them appropriately. To this end, the Framework Regulation defines structural measures (e.g. advice and complaint channels which are transparent, comprehensible and amenable to being monitored), as well as requirements regarding basic and further training, which form an established component of quality management. A hand-out on prevention in the training facilities, as well as for youth pastoral work, have now provided greater detail on the requirements that were spelled out in the Framework Regulation.

The German Bishops’ Conference has established an Internet portal on the topic of prevention which provides comprehensive information and material on the prevention of sexual abuse of minors (www.praevention-kirche.de).

US experts from Chicago archdiocese provided information to abuse and prevention commissioners of the dioceses and orders about American experience at the conference entitled “Prevention and dealing with sexual abuse – Learning from 20 years of American experience” held at the Ruhr University of Bochum on 7 July 2011. Another further training course took place in Berlin on 7 October 2011 for vicars general, personnel officers, as well as abuse and prevention commissioners.

 

Material payments and immaterial benefits

As early as 30 September 2010, the German Bishops’ Conference and the German Conference of Superiors of Religious Orders presented to the Federal Government’s roundtable on “Sexual abuse of children” a model for “Payments in recognition of the suffering caused to victims of sexual abuse”. On 2 March 2011, the model which had by then been spelled out in greater detail was made public after re-submission to the roundtable. The paper on payments entailed a clearly-regulated undertaking to meet the cost of therapies, including couple therapy, unless these are paid for by the health insurance funds. Furthermore, material payments of up to Euro 5,000 were paid as a sign of recognition. Higher or additional payments are possible in particularly serious cases.

About 980 applications have been submitted for deliberation to the Central Coordination Unit (ZKS) at the “Office for Issues of Sexual Abuse of Minors in the Church Domain” in Bonn since 14 March 2011 (as per: 31 January 2012). In up to now 19 meetings, roughly 960 recommendations have been made by ZKS.

In addition to meeting the cost of therapy and one-off material payments, the German Bishops’ Conference and the German Conference of Superiors of Religious Orders have established a prevention fund with capital of Euro 500,000 to promote prevention projects inside and outside the Catholic Church. On 12 March 2012, an allocation committee will meet for the second time to deliberate on applications for support.

On account of their responsibility for all members of society, the German Bishops’ Conference and the German Conference of Superiors of Religious Orders will contribute to a so-called additional aid system which has been proposed by the roundtable on “Sexual abuse of children” of the Federal Government. According to it, payments amounting up to Euro 10,000 per applicant are possible. Payments already made by other institutions will be taken into account.

 

Act of penitence on the part of the German bishops

Research project “Sexual attacks by clergy in the Catholic Church in Germany”

The implementation of the research project entitled “Sexual attacks by clergy in the Catholic Church in Germany”, to be headed by Prof. Dr Norbert Leygraf, was agreed on at the beginning of April 2011. The project started on 15 April 2011. The investigation included all cases in which an act of sexual abuse or conduct overstepping sexual boundaries was reported to the diocese or to the orders between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2010 and in which a forensic-psychiatric report was drawn up on the person concerned.

 

 

Scientific study “Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male members of orders in the domain of the German Bishops’ Conference”

 

 The implementation of the further scientific study entitled “Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male members of orders in the domain of the German Bishops’ Conference” was adopted by the Permanent Council of the German Bishops’ Conference in June 2011. The project is being implemented under the leadership of Prof. Dr Christian Pfeiffer of the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN).

The investigation is set to take three years and pursues the following goals:

  • Firstly, it is to provide authoritative figures on sexual abuse by priests, deacons and male members of orders – both in terms of the long-sectional development since 1945, and also as a cross-sectional analysis of the current situation in the years since the turn of the millennium.
  • Secondly, it is a matter of understanding the development and the course taken by abuse from the point of view of the victims and of clarifying the consequences which the acts had for them. A central concern is, thirdly, to analyse the acts of the perpetrators and to ascertain the significance of the influencing factors which contributed to their acts. Fourthly, the study is to clarify how the Catholic Church has acted towards perpetrators and victims. Finally, it is important to examine the Church’s prevention concept to date on the basis of the results of the survey and to draw up any necessary additional proposals.

Quotations

Archbishop Dr Robert Zollitsch, President of the German Bishops’ Conference:

“I would like to stress quite clearly that sexual abuse of minors is always a heinous crime. I wholeheartedly and sincerely espouse the words of Pope Benedict and apologise to all those who were victims of such a crime. Abuse within the church is particularly serious because children and adolescents place a special confidence in the priest. There should be no abuse, particularly within the Church.”

Press statement at the beginning of the German Bishops’ Conference spring full assembly in Freiburg, 22 February 2010

Bishop Dr Stephan Ackermann, Delegate to the German Bishops’ Conference for abuse cases:

“The topic of abuse appears no longer to be so prominently on the public radar. I would however like to assure you that my Episcopal confreres, and myself as the commissioner within the Bishops’ Conference, are still very much alert and taking the topic seriously. We will endeavour with all our strength to ensure that sexual abuse is prevented as effectively as at all possible. Children and adolescents, as well as their parents and guardians, should experience the Church as a positive, safe place. Perhaps we can also in this manner ensure that the victims receive greater attention and the recognition to which they are entitled.”

Statement given at the press conference in Bonn, 13 July 2011

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