“There is nothing comparable at the moment”

In September, the new Institute for Prevention and Reappraisal of the German Bishops' Conference will begin its work. Head will be the prevention officer in the archdiocese of Cologne, Oliver Vogt. What awaits him?

Interviewer: In your new office, will you continue the work in the Archdiocese of Cologne at the federal level?

Oliver Vogt (Prevention Officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne): No. The new institute's task is not to pursue individual cases, but to do fundamental work. It is a question of networking between science, politics and the church. We want to develop standards for dealing with the subject of abuse and for coming to terms with it.

Interviewer: There is some work to be done, isn't there?

Vogt: I ame that. There is nothing comparable at the moment. Therefore it is to be expected that a lot of work comes. We have to structure ourselves well. But we will gladly take up this challenge.

Interviewer: Which points are at the top of the list?

Vogt: There are two major ies that we need to address first: The area of prevention – the Catholic Church has been very well positioned in this area for many years compared to other social groups. Here we will determine how effective prevention is. Here we will network with scientists who have ideas on how to develop effective research.

The other part is the necessary reappraisal of cases. Also here there are hardly standards. What does reappraisal mean? How to involve those affected in a process of reappraisal? How to deal with the accused? How to deal with systems in which abuse has occurred? To clarify these questions under scientific guidance with the support of politics will be the tasks that stand at the beginning.

Interviewer: As prevention officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne, you introduced a victim advisory board. What role will those affected play in your future work??

Vogt: My experience, which I have made here in Cologne as an intervention officer, is that one must always orient oneself to the interests and needs of those affected. It is impossible to communicate at all if we do something and do not pay attention to and take into account their interests.

Here in Cologne, the advisory board for those affected has already met several times. At the request of those affected, no information has yet been released to the public. This is a decision of the persons concerned. This must be the guideline for future action in the Institute, in every diocese and in the Catholic Church as a whole. We must be guided by what those affected have to say.

Interviewer: That means you also want to integrate those affected in the institute?

Vogt: The consideration at the moment is that we install an advisory board for this institute. Of course, those affected can also participate in this process in order to have a direct influence on future work.

Interviewer: Coordination of the various dioceses might not always be easy.
Vogt: First of all, the institute is an offer. It is founded under the leadership of Bishop Ackermann out of the diocese of Trier. It offers support to the dioceses, the groups, the religious orders in Germany. For the time being, this has no rights of intervention, and that's just as well.

We make offers, we develop ideas, we network. We bring together stakeholders who are deliberately not only from the church. As I said, scientists should be involved. And if a diocese desires support from the Institute, it is welcome to call upon it. But it is not an obligation.

Interviewer: This lack of commitment is often crticized and demanded an official reporting obligation. What is your position on this??
Vogt: This is a very critical topic. On the one hand, it is true that in the case where a criminal offense is in the room, the law enforcement agencies in Germany are the only institutions that can pursue this accusation. Only they can take appropriate action. So cooperation with law enforcement is imperative.

However, it is critical to say across the board: "Everything must be reported to the public prosecutor's office", because it is about the personal rights of those affected. That's also laid down in our guidelines. If those affected do not want a report and they also give reasons for this in writing, we are initially bound to it. And that's why you have to be very careful about calling for a blanket report. This has limits. But it is of course true that every incident must be examined to see whether the public prosecutor's office should be called in. No question. We do it very consistently in the Archdiocese of Cologne – except in the cases I just mentioned.

Interviewer: The project leader of the German Bishops' Conference abuse study presented in the fall of 2018, the Mannheim psychiatrist Prof. Harald Drebing, has called on the church to take responsibility for the sexual abuse of children by clerics. He means resignations. What do you say there as the head of the future institute, which was, after all, created as a result of this study?

Vogt: I cannot share the impression that too little is being done. I also have the impression that things are not moving fast enough and that steps take a long time. Unfortunately, this is due to the church system. As for the resignations: that, too, is a demand that cannot be made in a blanket way like that. Of course, those responsible for helping to cover up and conceal abuse will have to face up to their personal responsibility. I can't put this off on an institution. Then it can be that such a responsibility ends with a resignation.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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