“Often reacted inappropriately”

Consternation and horror, indignation – and questions for the church. The discovery of numerous cases of abuse from earlier decades at the Canisius College in Berlin, a Jesuit school, has attracted nationwide attention. On Monday, the highest-ranking German Jesuit, Father Stefan Dartmann, will face questions from the media in Berlin.

In his announcement on Saturday, the Provincial of the German Province of the Order referred to the effort to clarify – on behalf of the Order and yet independent of the Order's leadership. This corresponds to guidelines ied by the German Conference of Superiors of Religious Orders (DOK) in 2003 and 2009. The note shows that the Catholic Church officially now has various regularities that provide for a consistent approach to such scandals. This applies to Germany as well as to the world church, because in the past ten years Catholics in the USA, Australia and Ireland in particular have been rocked by scandals.

Central contact points at diocesan level After a series of sensational cases, the German Bishops' Conference presented a regulation in 2002 on how to deal with cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergymen. The guidelines "On the approach to sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church" provided for the establishment of central contact points at the diocesan level, assistance for victims and perpetrators, and measures for prevention. In addition, they regulate an initial examination and assessment of abuse cases, an ecclesiastical preliminary investigation, the information of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ecclesiastical punitive measures as well as the cooperation with state law enforcement agencies. The German religious orders soon followed suit. At that time, the bishops admitted that in the past they had often not reacted correctly in cases of sexual abuse in the church. Literally it says: "From lack of knowledge about the closer contexts of sexual abuse of minors was often reacted inappropriately. In view of the victims, we deeply regret this.

"More resolute than the Vatican At the same time, the bishops acted more decisively than the Vatican with these guidelines at the time. In 2001, the latter had ied an official letter reorganizing the canonical procedures in cases of pedophilia and other serious misconduct by clergymen. Since then, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been responsible for such misconduct. But the church leadership has acted more strictly only since John Paul II's change of ponitificate. on Benedict XVI. 2005. The experience of the U.S. church with the financial decline of entire dioceses as a result of negligently escalated abuse series may have contributed to this, as well as the shock over the extent of such scandals in Ireland. Repeatedly, Rome pressed for a comprehensive reappraisal, much more massively than at the beginning of the decade. Most recently, Benedict XVI expressed. in December 2009 on the subject. Earlier, he had consulted with several curia heads and Irish bishops about the official Murphy report, which exposed decades of systematic cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse. Outrage, betrayal, shame – such words came from the pope afterwards.

Now zero tolerance policy And the Vatican tightened its line again six weeks ago. Since 2002, the U.S. has had a zero-tolerance policy – approved by the Vatican – for sexually abusive church employees. In view of the scandal in Ireland, Benedict XVI developed a new policy. a three-step plan he had previously promoted several times. The provided so far: Legal clarification – in the sense of zero tolerance for pedophiles; pastoral reappraisal that seeks to "heal" the victims' injuries; effective preventive mechanisms – especially in the selection of seminarians. In Ireland, Benedict XVI. apparently wants to go one step further. There, the head of the Church will probably address the faithful of the country with a pastoral letter and discuss further action. In addition – and this is also new – Rome wants to examine questions of episcopal ministry, including ultimate responsibility for pastoral care of children. Irish bishops summoned to Rome in mid-February. Ecclesiastical legal experts, by the way, doubt whether there should be any tightening in terms of canon law. Already today it is possible to exclude offenders from the priesthood. In many cases, the question of criminal prosecution is more likely to arise. But both state and church prosecutions are complicated by the fact that crimes are often time-barred by the time they come to light. Since 2001, the statute of limitations in the ecclesiastical sphere has been ten years after the victim reaches the age of majority, compared with five years previously.

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