Bringing the topic out of the taboo zone

Adult men as victims of abuse of power? The "stronger sex" after all, and certainly not in the church. With a new initiative, the Catholic Church wants to bring the topic out of the taboo zone.

Pastoralreferent A. got along well with the new pastor at the beginning. But over time, noted A., that the pastor wanted to form coalitions in order to play one off against the other. The pastoral worker didn't want to play along and quickly felt the power of the priest.

"He treated me like a beginner", he describes. Everything about his work was criticized – "a display of power," says A. At the online launch event of the conference "As a man affected by abuse of power in the church" on Friday. It wants to focus more on men as victims.

Difficult to get reports on experiences

The organizers found it difficult to get reports of experiences. The head of the German Bishops' Conference's Men's Pastoral Care Office (AfM), Andreas Heek, now hopes that the kick-off event, with almost 100 participants, will encourage more affected men to describe their experiences.

The AfM, on behalf of the Pastoral Commission of the Bishops' Conference and the Conference of the Superiors of Religious Orders, organized the conference with the subtitle "Making Border Violation, Assault, Spiritual Abuse and Sexualized Violence against Adult Men Visible.".

"Men find it much more difficult to come out of their shells when they have suffered abuse of power," emphasized Archbishop Ludwig Schick, the Bishops' Conference's commissioner for men's pastoral care, after the conference.

Many do not even notice that they are abusing their power – others do not notice that they are affected by abuse of power, the Archbishop of Bamberg described a difficulty in the subject matter. Schick stressed that it was important to learn from those affected and also to obtain outside expertise.

Spiritual abuse

Just as von P., formerly a member of a spiritual community. Two years he was there – 20 years of nightmares followed. He complains about spiritual abuse that "destroyed his identity". After his experience of abuse, he had received no help from the church. On the contrary, he advises those affected to turn to the church, so as not to be abused again, for example, by trivialization.

In view of these descriptions, Premonstratensian Abbot Hermann-Josef Kugler called for an independent contact point for those affected. "Where can I turn and complain?? It must not be the church itself," stressed the representative of the German Conference of Superiors of Religious Orders.

In addition, the church must take a closer look at the role and self-image of priests. "A sacral exaltation of ordination is questionable," says Kugler.

The former head of the German Province of the Jesuits, Stefan Kiechle, pointed out that church structures could be causes for abuse of power also against men. Kiechle spoke of ecclesiastical associations of men and suggested thinking about how meaningful the vow of obedience is for religious and priests. The editor-in-chief of the magazine "Stimmen der Zeit" also emphasized:

"Many a ruler sees himself as a 'servant of God' and justifies his deeds with it. However, the service is something I do for others, not for me."This awareness is sometimes lacking.

Thomas Mann, former prevention officer for the diocese of Speyer, also calls on the church to break through power structures. "Sexual violence doesn't just happen. Structures are created, with which the perpetrator gains advantages," warned Mann.

Only just beginning to come to terms with the situation

According to Christoph Jacobs, a pastoral psychologist from Paderborn, coming to terms with and researching the abuse of power against adult men in the church is in its infancy. He encouraged an intensive exchange with those concerned. "It is a matter of returning dignity and life," he emphasized.

Archbishop Schick called for candidates for church offices to be made more aware of the ie as early as the selection process. For example, the training of priests must be adapted accordingly. "Moreover, anyone who holds office must be prepared to spend his life learning," Schick said.

The archbishop also sees a need for action at the level of canon law. "The free choice of spiritual care as well as confession must be given. In some spiritual communities, this is not the case," said Schick, who had initiated the meeting in the Bishops' Conference. He also called for clearer rules to prevent abuse of power.

Due to pandemic, the meeting had to take place online. Organizer Heek is counting on that changing at the next edition, which is planned for early April 2022 in Siegburg. "This ie actually demands a personal exchange," he said. In the chat accompanying the event, this also became clear. Harsh criticism of church officials by those affected could be read there.

"The victims react with dismay," Archbishop Schick commented. "This must be endured, only in this way can there be a further process of learning and understanding."

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