“I don't enjoy this either”

A year ago, concrete recommendations for compensation of abuse victims were on the table in Fulda. But nothing has been done, according to their spokesman Matthias Katsch. Archbishop Hebe is not uninvolved in the setbacks in the archdiocese of Cologne.

Interviewer: You have hung up a whole row of white balloons here with your fellow campaigners. Why?

Matthias Katsch (spokesman for the victims' initiative Eckiger Tisch): These balloons – 50 in number – represent the 5.089 known and documented cases of sexual violence against children and young people by clerics of the Catholic Church. With this action we want to remember these victims who cannot all be here today. You will notice: In between there are also some black balloons. They remember those of us who are no longer with us, who have already passed away in the meantime, who didn't make it. And the space between the balloons ultimately symbolizes all those victims we don't know yet, who have remained unknown because the cover-up has worked and their case has not been exposed.

With this action, we urge the bishops not to forget the victims and to continue on the path they took last year: Namely, to seek conversation with victims about recommendations for appropriate compensation, and not to try, in the old evil tradition, to impose a regulation on those affected from above, rather than making those recommendations the basis for conversation.

Interviewer: The bishops say they have this in mind and are trying to find a solution. The matter is complicated.

Katsch: Complicated – I won't accept that as an excuse after ten years. The recommendations have been clear and unambiguous. Last year we presented it to the bishops here. On the basis of which one could have continued to work. Instead, they rushed to say: No, we'll start again from the beginning. And has tried to develop its own guidelines. I do not think it is a good style. What is the point of commissioning 30 experts, proven legal politicians and representatives of those affected to develop a concept and propose a regulation, if you then say: No, we'll start again from the beginning??

It is complicated? It is not complicated. The point is that the Church must be prepared to take responsibility for its institutional failures. A choice could have been made between the two models that have been proposed – a graduation or a blanket approach – and implementation could have begun. Instead, we are only now beginning to discuss again how a new procedure that the bishops have come up with should now be implemented.

Interviewer: Shouldn't the bishops themselves have an interest in making sure that this is not an ie again at every plenary assembly?

Katsch: I don't understand it either. It's the third time I've come here to Fulda – after 2018 and 2019. I don't enjoy it either. It is not a pleasure to permanently remind people of this tragedy and to deal with it. I don't understand why the bishops didn't dare to say a year ago, 'Okay, that's it now.'. That's what we're trying to implement'.

It was always clear that in the implementation, the sums would be discussed, that this would mean a considerable burden also for the church, to compensate its victims in this way. But one did not dare.

A year ago I had the feeling that the bishops understood that there was also an opportunity for them – not to buy their way out, but to do the right thing for once in this crisis, which has now lasted for ten years. This opportunity has unfortunately been lost. Instead, one has allowed oneself to be irritated by the outcry of a few people with reservations and has started again from the beginning. Now we are waiting to see exactly what this concept will look like.

Interviewer: The MHG study has indeed found a flaw in the system. Do you have the impression that the system still works and should continue to work?

Katsch: The main cornerstones of this system are still functioning. Whether perpetrators are still being moved and transferred today in the same way as they were in the past? I hope not. But that the system is having a hard time, you can see, for example, in the current reporting on the canonical proceedings against this "Peter H.", whatever is called in the press. So the priest who was transferred from Essen to Munich during the time of Cardinal Ratzinger. Since the ecclesiastical legal procedure has only been brought to a conclusion in 2016/17. All the difficulties resulting from the church's handling of the ie have become apparent in these proceedings.

'I think there is still a lack of transparency'. There continues to be a lack of willingness to hire outsiders to investigate and clear up the matter, and then to put themselves in their hands to some extent as well. Of course, when I open the door, I also give away power. Then I also give control. This is still difficult – apart from the fact that the hierarchy is of course still the same as it was ten or 15 years ago.

That is, many bishops have been part of the system we're talking about. I've actually been waiting since Fulda 2018, since the presentation of the MHG study, for a response from bishops who say: 'Yes, I have been part of this system. I was guilty of that too. I have responsibility and I now take responsibility for what has been done there – also by me.'

Interviewer: In an interview with the Deutschlandfunk you made heavy reproaches to the archbishopric of Cologne. Specifically Bishop Hebe, the current Archbishop of Hamburg, who was in charge of personnel at the time. What are you referring to specifically?

Katsch: I have been asked if I could specifically name bishops where I see that there is obviously a responsibility for the past. That's when I pointed out the responsibility of the former personnel manager and vicar general in the archdiocese of Cologne.

The archdiocese of Cologne wanted to publish a report in the spring, in which obviously the actions of personnel managers and vicars general in the past should be critically examined – where this system of abuse should be illuminated and exposed. This report could not be published until today, because one of the people named there obviously prevented it. That seems to have been the archbishop of Hamburg. That's why you really have to ask him what he says about it and what he thinks about his responsibility today.

One must also be clear: This is one of 27. I believe, just as Cardinal Marx must allow himself to be asked how he handled the case of Peter H. Since he has been in charge in Munich, many bishops will have to ask themselves what they have done in the past – just as his predecessors in Munich and Essen had to ask themselves what they did in this case. It would be good if they didn't just pillory Archbishop Hebe now because he obviously tried to deal with the abuse cases in a suboptimal way in Cologne. The bishops must all ask themselves: 'What has actually been my role in the past in this system?' I don't hear that until today.

Interviewer: Are you still in discussion with the bishops?

Katsch: Whenever I ambush them – as here in Fulda – and thus force them to talk to me. The experts who have tried to chart a path for the church here over the past year, including taking into account the interests of those affected, deserve to have an open and transparent dialogue with the bishops. But there they are also in the duty to initiate it. I'm getting tired of constantly running after them and admonishing them: 'Let's get together sometime?'

We need a format and we need a mediator for this process. I actually see the policy here in the responsibility to say: 'There are now two competing concepts. There are demands from the victims, but they are also supported by experts. There is the proposal of the bishops. They are obviously far apart. We are now bringing the parties to the table and talking about a compensation payment that the church is able and willing to finance, but that the victims can also feel and accept as real compensation.'

The interview was conducted by Ingo Bruggenjurgen.

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