Turning to the victims

In the beginning there was a letter. Father Klaus Mertes, then rector of the Berlin Jesuit high school Canisius-Kolleg, wrote this to 600 alumni exactly two years ago. The message: Fathers of the order had sexually abused students in the 1970s and 80s – systematically and for years.

The letter, which was sent on 28. The scandal spread to other religious schools and also overtook Protestant institutions and secular institutions such as the Odenwald School and sports clubs.

Earlier cases of abuse are still coming to light today. Currently, for example, a Catholic priest from Salzgitter is on trial for allegedly molesting three boys in 280 cases between 2004 and 2011. At the same time, sensitivity has grown, as Mertes also stressed in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA) on Monday. For 20 months, a round table set up by the federal government dealt with child abuse. Abuse commissioner Christine Bergmann ran more than 20.000 letters and calls to. More than half of the abuse cases reported there happened in families. One in three took place in institutions, about 60 percent of them in churches.

Abuse commissioner to be appointed
The scandal plunged the Catholic Church into a deep crisis of confidence. "How could such abuse be possible – in a church that stands for such high moral values, that claims to be able to provide answers to the deepest questions of being human?" Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode asked. A receipt for the scandal: in 2010, more Catholics turned their backs on the church than in a long time, namely 181.193. Jesuit Father Friedhelm Mennekes also makes out massive effects on pastoral care. "I used to talk nicely with people, but today you are immediately seen as a potential seducer of children," he says. The clergy had their "backs to the wall".

Bishops responded with a series of measures. As early as March 2010, they apologized to the victims. Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann appointed abuse commissioner and hotline set up. In summer 2010, the bishops tightened guidelines for dealing with offenders. In addition, they adopted a prevention concept and launched two research projects.

In addition, the Bishops' Conference was the first institution to present a model for material recognition of injustice. According to the report, victims of up to 5.000 euros received. 950 victims have so far applied for compensation. In 90 percent of the cases, a payment was recommended, it says. That Pope Benedict XVI. The fact that Zollitsch met five victims of abuse during his visit to Germany in September marks a further step in the process of coming to terms with the past.

Dialogue process since 2010
"For all dioceses, it can be said that we have turned our attention to the victims, after previously focusing far too much on the perpetrators and the church itself," Bishop Bode sums up. Mertes, who received approval for the publication of his letter but also many hate mails and was called a nest defiler, also emphasizes that the church had allowed itself to be "shaken".

It is clear to him and many other church representatives that the abuse scandal has brought to light a crisis that has been virulent for much longer. The chairman of the bishops' conference, Robert Zollitsch, spoke of "probing doubts" about the teachings of the church. And refers, for example, to sexual doctrine, the role of women and the laity in the church or priestly celibacy – although a connection between celibacy and abuse has been clearly denied even by scientists.

Zollitsch therefore launched a dialogue process in September 2010. A balancing act: There is a danger of bridges being burned in the dispute and unity breaking down, warns Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen. Zollitsch admits church is under prere – but not facing split. The Archbishop of Freiburg wants to use the abuse scandal as an opportunity to renew the church.

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