100 Million euros in compensation for victims of abuse

100 Million euros in compensation for victims of abuse

For years, the Catholic Church has been looking for a way to pay compensation to victims of abuse. Now the bishops have agreed on a compensation for pain and suffering. What is the scheme and where will the money come from??

There's a lot of money at stake, and it's about concepts. Above all, however, it is about something almost impossible: The church wants to make up for what hundreds of its priests have done to children and young people over the past 70 years, at least symbolically, through a material payment – even if the victims no longer have a legal claim to it due to the statute of limitations.

The payments are now to be made analogous to the rates of compensation for pain and suffering customary in Germany. They are likely to choose between 5.000 and 50.000 euros per case. In total, the Catholic Church in Germany will have to pay out up to 100 million euros. The amount is to be determined on a case-by-case basis by an independent commission.

Victims demanded real compensation

How did it come to this sum, which some say is too low and others say is appropriate? When the high number of abuse cases first began to emerge in 2010, the bishops initially opted for a non-bureaucratic procedure at the suggestion of their abuse commissioner, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier: Anyone who could plausibly show that he or she had been sexually abused by a church employee would receive a sum of 5.000 euros, in severe cases even more. Around 2.000 alleged victims came forward, and dioceses paid out about 10 million euros.

But displeasure was soon voiced that 5.000 euros was not appropriate in view of the psychological damage caused by abuse. Victims' associations such as the "Cornered Table" called for a completely different system. It should pay real damages – based on the idea that many victims are permanently handicapped due to the psychological damage and, for example, are less successful in their careers than people without such a history.

Victims do not have to pay tax on pain and suffering compensation

This model was introduced by the spokesman of the "Eckiger Tisch", Matthias Katsch, into the work of an independent group of experts. Last September, the experts presented the Bishops' Conference with the proposal that in the future compensation of up to 400.000 euros per case. These sums – in total there was talk of up to a billion euros – would have far exceeded what is usual in the German legal system, and they would have presented some poorer dioceses and religious congregations with considerable financial problems. Closures of schools and social institutions would have been the consequence there.

After numerous consultations among themselves and with external experts, the bishops then agreed on the new compensation model at this year's spring plenary meeting in Mainz. As Ackermann points out, one of the advantages is that the victims do not have to pay tax on the money and that it is not offset against other benefits. In addition, the amount is not static: if the general pain and suffering compensation tables change upwards, future claimants after sexual abuse will also receive more money. In addition to damages for pain and suffering, church still wants to pay for therapy sessions.

First payments possibly at the end of the year

For poorer dioceses, the new settlement means they will likely have to draw on reserves from church tax funds. Richer dioceses can cover the sums from other pots, for example, from the assets of their "episcopal chair". For many religious congregations, the new compensation for pain and suffering exceeds financial possibilities. They rely on richer dioceses to help them out with a solidarity levy.

Experts say the new procedure could lead to the first payouts as early as the end of this year. It remains in the amount and also in the basic idea clearly behind what some victim representatives had wanted. On the other hand, for the first time it meets criteria such as transparency and uniformity and is based on the requirements of German civil law. It's not comparable to the court-successful claims for damages in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it is comparable to what is already practiced in neighboring countries like Austria or Belgium.

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