“Church and diaconia have become guilty”

The chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Nikolaus Schneider, has publicly asked former children in care on behalf of the EKD and the Diakonisches Werk for forgiveness for the suffering that was done to them in Protestant homes.

At the French Friedrichstadt Church in Berlin on Sunday, Schneider, who is also Rhineland president, read out a joint declaration. "Church and diakonia have become guilty before those who were entrusted to us and before God," it says.

As a former child of the home, Sonja Djurovic appreciated the request for forgiveness as a "sign of reconciliation". Many of those affected wanted to take the hand that was extended to them and longed for personal peace. At the same time, Djurovic appealed for understanding for former home children who do not want to accept the public apology. She again demanded compensation for the victims, which would have to go beyond the aid from a 120-million-euro fund approved by the Bundestag. "Many of us are disappointed," said Djurovic. "What was decided does not go far enough for us."

Several former home children had previously left the event amid shouts of protest. They accused the church of relativizing the injustice in the homes. Udo Trost, 57, of Gottingen, said that as long as he was still rebuffed in his attempts to explore his own fate, the public request for an apology was "window dressing". Like other home children, Trost demanded compensation.

Schneider, the chairman of the EKD Council, acknowledged that it was only "an impetus from outside" – journalists' research and reports from those affected – that led to the church and diaconia opening their eyes. The theologian ared that the Protestant Church would continue on the path of coming to terms with the past. He paid tribute to the "greatness" of the home children who made their life stories public and thus made clear the extent of the suffering. "I bow down before this greatness," said Schneider.

Confessing failure
What has happened in Protestant homes "in terms of misconduct clearly contradicts our Christian convictions," he said
Schneider: "It is difficult and painful for us to confess this failure."The Protestant church will participate in providing aid and material support to victims. At the same time, she said, she is aware that she cannot make up for lost life chances.

About 800.000 children and young people lived in German homes between 1949 and the mid-1970s, about 500.000 of them in church institutions. Many have been traumatized by emotional neglect, humiliation, punishment and beatings, and sexual violence. Young people were forced to do hard work without pay.

Injustice committed systematically
Sonja Djurovic emphasized in her speech that "forgiveness" must grow and does not happen overnight. She hopes that the dialogue between the church and the children of the homes will continue. Djurovic stressed that today's church representatives are not yesterday's perpetrators. However, the church and the diaconia have a legal and moral responsibility as the owners of the homes.

Children in care were victims of systematic injustice, said Djurovic, who as a teenager was imprisoned in a Bavarian girls' home run by deaconesses. Whether she could accept the request for forgiveness will have to be measured by what the church and diaconia do to actually provide the planned aid from the fund to those affected.

The Bundestag decided on recommendation of the round table a 120-Million-Hilfe-Fonds for former home children, which is financed in each case to one third by the churches, the federation and the countries. 100 million euros are earmarked for individual assistance, 20 million euros for pension back payments. The money is to be paid out from 2012.

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