Also sifting through parish archives

Also sifting through parish archives

Historical documents on the shelf of a diocesan archive © Julia Steinbrecht (KNA)

Now also Osnabruck: But while other dioceses mostly rely only on purely historical, legal or psychological reappraisal of abuse, the study for the Osnabruck diocese chooses an interdisciplinary approach.

The German Bishops' Conference's abuse study, presented in 2018, has set things in motion: several Catholic dioceses in Germany have since commissioned their own independent investigations to take a closer look at sexual violence in their.

The dioceses took different approaches to the matter. After a long dispute, the archdiocese of Cologne presented an expert opinion in March, which also names those responsible. The Archdiocese of Berlin also commissioned lawyers, but did not name them. Historians are currently working on a study for the diocese of Munster.

Interdisciplinary approach

The diocese of Osnabruck has chosen a different, interdisciplinary approach – in which names are to be mentioned. The University of Osnabruck is preparing a historical-legal expert opinion for the North German diocese, the design of which was presented in more detail on Tuesday.

The goal of the three-year study is to examine the various perceptions of sexualized violence against the respective contemporary background, explained the historian Siegrid Westphal and the legal scholar Hans Schulte-Nolke as project leader. In addition, typical abuse patterns in the church environment and the handling of cases would be uncovered and evaluated. The diocese is providing 1.3 million euros for this purpose. The project is expected to start on 1. August.

According to Westphal, it is important for the five researchers involved not only to investigate possible breaches of duty by the diocese management in dealing with the perpetrators. Violations of state or ecclesiastical law by those responsible for dealing with the currently 50 known cases would only be examined in a first sub-project, the results of which would then be published after one year.

In addition, new cases should also be uncovered by studying files and interviewing those affected and eyewitnesses, Schulte-Nolke added. In addition, they said, they want to find out where incomplete and missing rules have kept those responsible from acting and where victims have been let down. "With this clarification, we want to contribute to the recognition of those affected."

Sift through documents in church parishes

It is also noteworthy that the scientists not only more than 2.The commission not only wants to comb through the thousands of personnel files in the diocesan archives, but also to examine documents in the affected parishes. In addition, those affected and other contemporary witnesses are also to be interviewed.

With the publication names of responsible persons would be called, as far as this is legally permissible, stressed Schulte Nolke. The University of Osnabruck alone decides on the time as well as the manner of publication, without the diocese having to agree to it.

The diocese guarantees the scientists unrestricted access to its files, ared Vicar General Ulrich Beckwermert. "Until the publication of the results, the diocese is not the subject, but the object of the procedure."

Beckwermert explains that the diocese is only now – a good two and a half years after the MHG study – commissioning a project of its own by the fact that the focus was initially deliberately placed on the protection of those affected and on the creation of a protection concept.

Cooperation with monitoring group

Here the diocese has been working for two years with a voluntary monitoring group, whose idea and initiative gave rise to the design of the study now presented.

In Osnabruck's neighboring bishoprics, too, studies are currently underway to come to terms with sexual violence. In the diocese of Hildesheim, an expert commission of lawyers and social scientists is investigating allegations of abuse against the former Hildesheim bishop Heinrich Maria Janssen (1907-1988).

In the archdiocese of Hamburg, a research group led by a psychiatrist is taking a close look at cases in the Neubrandenburg region. At the same time, the three northern dioceses are currently planning to set up a joint commission to deal with the matter, which will be staffed by independent experts and those affected and will continue to drive forward the process of coming to terms with the past.

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