The criteria and standards for independent processing of sexual abuse have been agreed upon. Now it is a matter of implementing it in the dioceses. Much of what has been newly established is already being done in the Archdiocese of Cologne.
Interviewer: On 22. June, Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the abuse commissioner of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference, signed the "Joint Declaration on Binding Criteria and Standards for an Independent Reappraisal of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany" with the federal government. A milestone in the fight against abuse, it should be. The document has eight pages, and the dioceses must now implement these criteria and standards, which were developed together with the federal government's abuse commissioner, Johannes Wilhelm Rorig. Does this change anything in your work?
Manuela Rottgen (prevention officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne and spokesperson for the Federal Conference of Prevention Officers): Nothing really changes for me. It is a consistent further development of our work, as we also already in 2011 signed an agreement with the independent commissioner of the federal government, Dr. Johannes Rorig, signed in the matter of prevention. In this respect, I very much welcome the fact that there is now also to be a binding agreement for the independent reappraisal.
Interviewer: What exactly does this prevention concept now provide for?
Rottgen: In the independent reappraisal, it is now a matter of taking another close look in the individual dioceses to see to what extent, in which institutions and services sexualized violence occurred. In addition, what structural conditions favored them and whether personal misconduct was also committed in dealing with the cases of abuse, for example, by personnel managers.
From this investigation, we as prevention commissioners draw insights in order to prevent exactly that. In the future, our personnel officers will be trained to handle cases in such a way that they can react appropriately and professionally and that there can no longer be any cover-ups or failure to listen to the people affected.
Interviewer: How exactly is a child himself trained who comes to an archdiocesan school so that he knows how to behave if he gets into an unpleasant cross-border situation??
Rottgen: First and foremost, students should experience and learn that they will find competent, empathetic, attentive adults in their teachers in whom they can confide. That they can confide if they actually experience an assault by a classmate, a fellow student, a teacher, and that this teacher believes them and gives them help.
Because we know from experience that children have to open up to eight adults until someone believes them and offers help. To make it easier, all teachers are given mandatory training in prevention. This means that what the independent commissioner Johannes Rorig is now calling for – namely to implement prevention measures in all schools in Germany – has already been standard practice at our school for the past ten years. All teachers who work in our 32 archdiocesan schools have undergone in-service training on prevention and receive in-depth training on this topic every five years.
Interviewer: Is there any praise for this?
Rottgen: It is not yet heard as it always is. The positive things are not being presented to the public in the way we might want them to be.
Interviewer: Has their work been affected in these corona times?
Rottgen: Yes, because the prevention trainings usually take place as face-to-face events, where external training speakers, who have been qualified by our Prevention Coordination Office, go to the colleges and work with the teachers on this topic. These face-to-face events have been suspended for quite some time. Now they start slowly again under the hygiene standards. They are smaller groups and in part prevention trainings are also carried out as webinars, online trainings, at the moment.
Interviewer: Will the agreements deter perpetrators from carrying out their acts?
Rottgen: If the conclusions drawn from this investigation are actually implemented and extended certificates of good conduct are obtained across the board in all institutions. This is, for example, a standard that has existed in the Catholic Church for the past ten years. Every volunteer and every full-time employee who works for us must provide an extended certificate of good conduct. That actually deters perpetrators. If, as the Minister of Justice has demanded, the penalties are increased or better utilized – we have good criminal law – I believe that this will have a signal effect on perpetrators.
The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.