Abuse – a dark topic © Friso Gentsch
In elaborate studies, scientists have been investigating sexual abuse in the Catholic Church since 2015. Now there are first results. Bishop Ackermann emphasizes: there is no evidence for the mass destruction of files.
The researchers make one thing clear from the start: a comprehensive quantitative full survey of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that meets strict scientific standards would not be possible. The main reason: both church personnel files and criminal justice files could only represent a fraction of the offenses actually committed.
Study commission of the German Bishops' Conference
Nevertheless, the consortium of researchers commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference to investigate sexual abuse by clergy wants to deliver as comprehensive a picture as possible. Thus, there should be key figures on the quantitative extent, and the project should show structures that can encourage acts. The scientists around the Mannheim psychiatrist Harald Drebing chose an approach for the research project that is so far unique in this form, as Drebing emphasized during the presentation of the first results of a partial study on Monday.
For in addition to psychologists, lawyers, criminologists and gerontologists are also involved. In addition, the scientists work interdisciplinary. So, in addition to personnel files, they also look at criminal records and conduct interviews with victims, offenders and church leaders. To get more voices from those affected, they are also launching a comprehensive online survey in July. In addition, they evaluate international investigations that have already dealt with the abuse of children and adolescents within church institutions in various countries. Finally, they compare the results of these investigations with studies on non-church institutions.
High proportion of male victims
Now there are first results of this partial study about already existing publications. These had examined, among other things, the situation in Germany, in other Western European countries, and in the United States, Canada and Australia: According to these studies, the proportion of male victims in the Catholic Church (78.6 percent) is significantly higher than in other institutions (45.6 percent).
The perpetrators are primarily parish priests and other priests (over 80 percent). Emotional or sexual immaturity was identified in 29.6 percent of the offenders, a personality disorder in 21 percent, and characteristics of pedophilia in 17.7 percent. 13.1 percent of the perpetrators were addicted to alcohol.
In all, the researchers across all the studies have conducted 14.588 acts investigated. In 82.9 percent of these crimes, there was direct physical contact between the victim and the perpetrator. Among these, touching without undressing the victim was the most common offence, at 22.8 percent. In 20.5 percent of the offenses, victims reported being touched under their clothing. According to the study, the third most common act of abuse was vaginal or anal penetration, at 17.2 percent.
Serious consequences for victims
For the victims of abuse, the assaults often have serious consequences: They often suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders or depression (64.2 percent), followed by behavioral consequences such as social withdrawal (23.2 percent) and physical consequences such as sleep disorders or headaches (12.6 percent).
The entire study, which was launched in 2014 after an initial failed attempt, is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Cooperation with the German dioceses is "actually good," says Drebing. There will still be "a lot to publish," he promised. Because of the data situation, data protection and the anonymous procedure, however, the study will not reveal in which dioceses abuse was particularly frequent at which times.
Ackermann: No mass destruction of files
Bishop Stephan Ackermann is certain about one thing: "There is no evidence of mass destruction of files of abuse cases". The commissioner of the German Bishops' Conference for the clarification of sexual abuse specifically pointed out that in the Catholic dioceses, however, looking back over the past decades, there is often no professional filing system in today's sense. The real problem is that there are sometimes too few files on the cases of abuse in question, and that the relevant notices have been made in very different places. In addition, there were no uniform nationwide standards.
Because of the unusual research approach, there are already many inquiries from abroad about the project, according to Drebing. This means that the German study could also set international standards after the study of the New York "John Jay College of Criminal Justice," which was published for the first time in 2002. And the researchers emphasize that a special focus will then also be on the consequences that result from the new findings, for example, for priest training.
The Catholic Church in Germany was the first major institution to present a concept for compensating victims of sexual abuse back in 2010. Accordingly, victims who have been abused by priests or other employees of the Catholic Church will each receive up to 5.000 euros. In justified individual cases, even higher sums are paid.