In the archdiocese of Freiburg, an ambitious process of coming to terms with abuse has begun. A commission regulates victim assistance, wants to clarify abuse structures and prevent recidivism. A look at the new concept.
Archbishop Stephan Burger finds clear words: comprehensive failure of the institution church; transparency and clarification without regard to the protection of persons and church institutions; the interests of the victims move into the center.
Last fall, a nationwide study highlighted the extent of sexual abuse by priests and pastors. Also in the southwest, where there were indications of 190 accused and 442 affected. On Wednesday, Burger presented the first concrete results together with the diocesan expert commission "Power and Abuse" appointed in September.
800 euros "abuse pension"
For example, the third largest diocese in Germany wants to be the first diocese in Germany to support victims of abuse in individual cases, even with monthly payments. Sexual abuse of minors has lifelong consequences and can severely affect one's existence health-wise and professionally, Burger said. The new offer of support in the amount of up to 800 euros per month is a response to this, he said. It should be limited to people who are "needy" as a result of the abuse they suffered, i.e. who cannot support themselves. The corresponding order is to be ied no later than 1. January 2020 come into force.
Rapid referral to therapists
In addition, there is still the possibility of applying for one-time payments as "recognition for suffering suffered". Here, the new order provides for a rule amount of 5.000 euros, an increase of up to 30.000 euros is possible. At the same time, victims of sexual violence are to find a suitable therapist more quickly and pragmatically in the future. These are more far-reaching offers than in many other dioceses.
In addition to victim assistance, the Freiburg Commission also investigates the structures that enable or encourage abuse. One focus is on dealing with two serious cases of sexual abuse in the southwest: In Oberharmersbach in Baden, a priest who has since died abused at least 25 children and young people over a period of years. And several monks at Lake Constance's Birnau pilgrimage church are accused of serious sexual assaults, although it is still unclear how many children were abused here. "We are still in the middle of the complicated process of coming to terms with this," says commission member Edgar Villwock.
"Piercing the blanket of silence"
It is still unclear, for example, who had the final disciplinary responsibility for the Birnau Fathers: their order – the Cistercians in Mehrerau, Austria – or the Archdiocese of Freiburg. "We will obtain an independent expert opinion here for clarification," Villwock announced. After that, it could be a matter of calling possible responsible parties to account. The aim is to penetrate the "blanket of silence". "We also have clear indications that files were manipulated.
In the case of Oberharmersbach, even the entire personnel file of the priest in question cannot be found," says Villwock. Some gaps could now have been closed by own research and witness interviews. A final report for Oberharmersbach and Birnau should be available next year.
Another subgroup of the commission is dedicated to the group of "endangered persons" – priests who have been convicted of abuse or boundary violations in the past. "We know that this is a provocative term. But research clearly shows that there is a high risk of recidivism among pedophile abusers, for example," says commission member Helmut Kury. At the same time, the criminologist warned that the church also has a responsibility not to simply drop former offenders.
The abuse commissioner of the diocese, Angelika Musella, stressed that she has received only six reports of current allegations diocese-wide since 2011. This had mostly been about boundary violations, the acts were thus not criminally relevant. Commission member and psychotherapist Gisela Hogeback described it as an incentive to keep this "zero line" as long as possible. However, there must be no let-up in prevention efforts.