Jesuit Father Klaus Mertes helped uncover the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church exactly two years ago. In the interview, he tries to draw up an interim balance sheet of the reappraisal and names further necessary steps, for example, in his opinion, Catholic sexual morals must change.
Father Mertes, are you satisfied with the consequences and lessons that the church, the Jesuit order and the Jesuit schools have drawn in the past two years in the matter of abuse?
One can never be satisfied with this topic. But at least I have the feeling that we have done what we could do. Even if this does not mean that this is sufficient for all victims.
You were and are in contact with numerous persons who were abused by Catholic clergymen. Can you draw a preliminary balance here?
There are different groups: Victims who have reconciled – with the Jesuit school, with my order or with the Catholic Church as a whole. There are also victims who are very grateful for what has happened in the past two years. But there are also victims who have angrily turned away or refused the recognition offered by the Churchmme of 5.000 euros indignantly rejected as far too little. Others, on the other hand, have been helped by this gesture.
Have those responsible in the Catholic Church done enough?
It is difficult to be complacent here as a representative of the Church. I think a lot has happened, more than in any other comparable institution. The Church, for example, is the only one that has found an answer at all to the question of compensation, even if that answer is heavily criticized. But apart from the Church, no one else, no country, no association, no state school has given an answer here so far. And one more thought is important to me: Especially if one understands the church as the entire community of believers, then it has become clear that the church has allowed itself to be deeply shaken by the incidents of abuse and the structures that have fostered them. This has raised deep questions among many Catholics.
That we listen again closely to what victims say about the church. Continue to look hard at what the systemic contexts of abuse experiences are.
For example, one victim tells me, "I see a co-responsibility of Catholic sexual morality for the abuse because I reacted to masturbation with such strong shame and guilt and therefore could not express what was done to me.
For me, this raises the question: How can we address sexual ethical ies in Catholic religious education in a new way today?? This question has not yet been accepted – there are still disputes ahead of us.
Would this also mean that the contents of Catholic sexual morality would have to change??
From my point of view clearly yes. We must be able to say, for example, to a young person who has been the victim of an assault and at the same time has homosexual pleasures: Your homosexual inclination is not sinful! The question of how to deal with spiritual offices and ministers also needs to be reflected on anew. Cult around religious authorities, susceptibility to personality cult of all kinds, also around the pope, promotes an atmosphere of depressed silence.
Can there be some kind of closure on the ie of abuse?
No, because sexualized violence and abuse of power, similar to drug abuse, for example, are a constant topic of the entire society and thus also of the Church. If you want to record a positive result of the past two years, you could say that there is now a more stable attention for the topic of abuse in society and in the church. For example, it is now undisputed that there must be public control over teacher and educator power in schools, whether through the establishment of ombudsman offices or cooperation with appropriate extracurricular organizations.
So have the church schools done their homework on abuse?
A lot has happened here. I think the church schools are ahead of the game here. This can be seen in the fact that state schools are now also contacting us and asking, how do you deal with this??
Should the experience gained in coming to terms with the abuse also flow into the current dialogue process on the future of the church??
This is what I would like to see. A key question would have to be: What new insights about ourselves arise from the victim's perspective on us as a church? Or: What do we have to change in order to be able to listen better when victims speak?. For the actually decisive, to this day tormenting question is: What has actually happened that we have not seen the abuses and the suffering of the victims and have not understood? I am always amazed at how little this ie has been addressed publicly to date.
The interview was conducted by Volker Hasenauer