After diocesan study, bishop stresses value of “external control”

After diocesan study, bishop stresses value of 'external control'

Four days after the publication of the abuse study in the Limburg diocese, Bishop Batzing and those responsible for the project answered questions from journalists. The will for change became clear.

The results of the abuse study in the Limburg diocese presented on Saturday are likely to accelerate the reform discussion in the Catholic Church in Germany. According to diocese spokesman Stephan Schnelle, it is the first time in Germany that a diocese has investigated sexual abuse "in such detail" in the past seven decades.

The trigger was the so-called MHG study published in fall 2018 on behalf of the bishops' conference. Asked Wednesday what other dioceses could now learn from Limburg, Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing said, "Have the courage to rely on external control."

"Cultural change" in dealing with abuse

Batzing, president of the bishops' conference since March, seeks an internal church "culture change" in dealing with abuse. "I commissioned the project a year ago so that we change a culture," he told reporters. The diocese study had shown that there had been a "cover-up" of abuse cases. Too little had been believed the children and young people concerned. Here a "reversal of the thinking" is necessary.

Batzing cited "clericalism, the role of priests, equality, the separation of powers and Catholic sexual morality" as areas in which changes must be made. Some of the 61 measures proposed by the study's authors in a 420-page report could be implemented "more quickly than others," Batzing said. "We will have a law on record keeping very soon at the level of the German Bishops' Conference," he announced. This should be implemented immediately in the diocese of Limburg. In the diocese, an equality law for more influence of women in church bodies is "about to be implemented".

Ombudsman for victims

According to Batzing, an ombudsman's office for victims should be created quickly. An independent diocesan commission will also be established for an initial three years to monitor the anti-abuse measures, he said. In order to coordinate the steps and to bring them forward, he will appoint an episcopal commissioner – this could also be a woman.

70 experts had worked since September 2019 on behalf of the diocese in the project "Hear those affected – prevent abuse". In nine sub-projects, they analyzed the handling of sexual abuse in the diocese for about 70 years. At the same time, they developed proposals on how systemic factors could be excluded in the future and how acts of abuse could be prevented as far as possible. In the Limburg diocese, a total of 46 cases on record from 1946 to the present day were investigated, of which 24 of the accused are already deceased, he said. In a quarter of the cases, serious abuse by a priest over a long period of time was described, it said.

About the study

All the accused are known by name, but they will not be mentioned in the public report for reasons of personal rights. Only the former "decision-makers" – bishops, vicars general and personnel department heads – in prominent positions will be named with clear names. Among them are former local bishop Franz Kamphaus, former vicars general Raban Tilmann and Gunther Geis, and the diocese's longtime human resources director, Helmut Wanka, who served from 1986 to 2015.

The Wiesbaden lawyer Claudia Burgsmuller said on Wednesday as an external project observer, the lawyers involved had had access to original files. She herself had been meticulously careful "not to let a kind of censorship creep in". Burgsmuller could have imagined with regard to accused also to call at least deceased priests with names. This would have been a "late satisfaction" for those affected by abuse.

Dewi Maria Suharjanto, deputy director of the Rabanus Maurus Catholic Academy and project leader, said she has been able to work without prohibitions on thinking and talking. It was not a question of making the church appear in a good light. This is rather "a transparency project" that should show what Catholic clergy have done to children and young people. And that had been "cruel".

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