“Changing the thinking in people's minds”

"This report sets us tasks that we want to accept" – Oliver Vogt, intervention officer of the Archdiocese of Cologne, announces consequences from the cases of abuse at the Collegium Josephinum. It is necessary to take every case seriously.

Interviewer: So what is the central finding from the abuse study that has now been presented?

Oliver Vogt (Intervention Officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne): The central finding is that we have now proven that there was violence and abuse of students by church employees in this boarding school for years and decades.

The further realization is that we also perceive that there are a number of students who have reported that they experienced a very happy and for them very important time in this convict. That is, we not only have the cases of abuse that took place there, but we also have those who had a very good time at school there. That is also what makes this study so special, as it has tried to take a look at these two perspectives.

Interviewer: Criminally, the acts that happened there are statute-barred. What happens now with the accused?

Vogt: The moment we have a concrete accusation – whether it comes out of the project or is reported directly to us – we initiate a procedure within the church according to the guidelines of the German Bishops' Conference. In addition, we are drawing personal consequences before the entire documentation is passed on to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

Interviewer: What consequences does the archdiocese draw from the abuse report??

Vogt: On the one hand we draw personal consequences; in the cases where we have accusations. This is the case at the moment with two priests. We have already reported these proceedings to Rome. But there are also many other topics that, from this report, will play an essential role for us in the future.

We have to ask ourselves again and again: "What do we have to consider when it comes to educational standards/educational methods in our schools?? What do we learn from this report?"We must ask ourselves what challenges the education of priests must face in this day and age. Some time ago, the archbishop had already set up a commission to consider a reorientation.

So, this report gives us tasks in many places that we now want to take on in order to help prevent such things from happening again.

Interviewer: And last but not least there are people like you. You are an intervention officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne. What exactly is your function?

Vogt: My function is to follow up and evaluate the cases of sexual abuse, physical violence or assault. It is a matter of providing necessary and appropriate assistance to those affected, but also of initiating and carrying out the internal church prosecution and processing of the incidents and ensuring that such cases are reported to Rome in accordance with the guidelines.

Interviewer: Now many victims in this case have said yes: "I did not dare to say anything at all."How can we ensure that those who report abuse will be heard in the future and that their accusations will not be dismissed by parents, teachers or superiors??

Vogt: Exactly these reports are running through the abuse discussion since years. It is reported again and again that students were afraid to accuse "Herr Pastor" or whomever else. Because: "That's not possible. The pastor does not do such things."

This is precisely the mechanism that we have been trying to break for several years with measures in the area of prevention here in the Archdiocese of Cologne. We try to sensitize people. We try to show the ways how to get rid of such a message. We try to strengthen children and adolescents in prevention projects, so that exactly this mechanism does not work anymore. And ultimately, we can only break through this mechanism if we make it clear: "We take every case seriously and pursue every case."That's what we do. And through this, hopefully, something will change in this thinking that has been in people's heads for years and decades.

Interviewer: If someone turns to you specifically now, what do you do then??

Vogt: First of all, we try to understand the situation – that's essential. We try to classify: How is this incident to be evaluated? What we have to do? Then the next consideration is: What does the person affected by this abuse need?? What help is needed? This can be a pastoral accompaniment, therapeutic help and legal advice. These questions need to be clarified. And ultimately our task is to initiate the proceedings according to the guidelines and to hear the accused on the accusations.

The interview was conducted by Verena Troster.

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