“This is simply the wrong order”

Is the Catholic sexual morality responsible for abuse crimes?? The Jesuit Klaus Mertes, who is honored for his educational work with the Federal Cross of Merit, sees a connection, but is against generalizations.

Interviewer: You said in an interview that you don't want to be called an enlightener. Why actually? You were the one who started the ball rolling for the enlightenment.

Father Klaus Mertes (former. director of the Canisius College in Berlin): Yes, my actions had an enlightening effect. But one must be clear about one's role. This is one of the basic problems with the whole reappraisal of the last few years. As a representative of the institution, I am always at the same time the object of enlightenment, and therefore I cannot simply be an enlightener. Enlightenment must run independently.

Interviewer: Again and again you have been called a nest-destroyer. They have even received death threats. How do you deal with it?

Mertes: Bouncing off me. Simply because it is nonsense.

Interviewer: Does the way the church deals with abuse sometimes make you despair??

Mertes: No, that does not make me despair. But it just shows how many people are beginning to deal with it. Not only bishops, but also the public. And ultimately not get how incredibly complex reappraisal is.

This is not just a question of good will. There are questions of role definition, self-image, strategy and the actual intentions behind the reappraisal. And they are sometimes not clear.

Interviewer: Of course, it is also about structures and principles of faith of the Catholic Church. You have also repeatedly criticized the sexual morality of the Catholic Church. How do you experience there now, for example, this statement from Rome, which forbids priests to bless homosexual partners?

Mertes: There we are already far away from the topic. The ie in coming to terms is justice for those affected, not sexual morality. Of course, there are connections to sexual morality that have a favorable effect. But that is not the primary ie of coming to terms with it. I don't think anything at all of the statement that has come out of Rome. She is completely out of touch with life.

Interviewer: You are right, of course, for those who have already been victims, it may no longer be the ie. But maybe it is about prevention.

Mertes: Yes, but the question of prevention must also be taken into account. If the church immediately talks about prevention, many victims experience that as a turning away from their questions. It's about the question of truth, justice, the recognition of truth, its history, the procedure by which justice can be established in the first place, and questions of compensation. These are the questions that concern them.

Already two days after my letter, which I wrote to former students of the college, Mrs. Illner discussed celibacy. That is simply the wrong order. Of course, these are also prevention-relevant questions, only for the reappraisal, first of all, the justice for those affected is decisive and that is to be answered independently of whether in the course of the next few years celibacy will be abolished or women will be ordained to the priesthood, even if I support both of them.

Interviewer: In any case, the handling of sexualized violence in the Catholic Church is the reason for many believers to leave the church. The church is indeed in deep crisis and that has a lot to do with this scandal as well. How should this continue? How do you see the future of the church?

Mertes: I see the future of the church in such a way that it must have in the processing of the abuse very clearly in the head that it is not about keeping as many people as possible in the Catholic church and therefore to clear up.

It is about those affected and it is about justice for those affected. If you keep putting the institution's own interests in the foreground, including your own fear of losing more members, then you won't make any progress in coming to terms with the situation.

Interviewer: Do you see that those affected have emancipated themselves in this past decade, that something has started to move that cannot be stopped anymore?

Mertes: There is no such thing as "those affected". But what has happened in recent years – and this is one of the major events since 2010 that I had not expected in this form – is that those affected are speaking out, and that is the great liberation.

Matthias Katsch, with whom I am being honored, has made precisely this a topic of discussion. The liberating experience of being able to speak publicly. And this is what has happened in the last ten years.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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