“We talk to those affected, not about them”

The Collegium Josephinum in Bad Munstereifel was closed in 1997 © DR

In 2010, the abuse scandal in the church became public. At the Collegium Josephinum in Bad Munstereifel, those affected are also involved in the processing, as the academic director Claudia Bundschuh explains.

CBA: Professor Bundschuh, how does your project differ from others??

Claudia Bundschuh (Scientific Director Project Collegium Josephinum / ProCJ): It is clearly a project with those affected and for them. Former members of the convict, which closed in 1997, helped determine the project's objectives and are involved in deciding on its components and implementation. We don't do anything without their support. In total, the steering committee includes two representatives of the Archdiocese of Cologne, two from academia, two affected persons and one representative of the affected persons.

CBA: What is the effect of this composition?

Claudia Bundschuh: It is very helpful because it always gives us a corrective, which is really the concern of those affected. We ourselves can only approach the subject theoretically. Only they themselves are experts on their life situation. The clear feedback gives us orientation for the appropriate implementation. It is talked about more openly – with those affected, not about them. It may take a little longer, but the result is more satisfying.
CBA: In your project, you also explicitly consider the so-called tertiary victims, students who have not experienced abuse or maltreatment themselves. Why?
Claudia Bundschuh: We want to prevent alumni from being adversely affected by the reappraisal, for example through the project's public relations work. In the reappraisal process to date, it has sometimes not been sufficiently taken into account that people can also be harmed by the reappraisal and the public presentation of past events in an institution. That would also be something to learn nationwide. At the kick-off event for our project, some of the boarding school's students, especially the younger ones, were very upset and emotionally shaken. They have had completely different experiences, but are now approached on the street and identified as victims, although they are not at all. They also complained that staff members are now under general suspicion who may have been very important as caregivers.
CBA: How do these tertiaries feel about your project??
Claudia Bundschuh: You support the reappraisal. But they sometimes also express displeasure that the project is presented publicly and that it arouses the wrong associations. They are also worried about their parents, because they sent them to this school and now feel guilty about it. One facet is also that some who – theoretically or actually – were witnesses to the acts now feel complicit because they did not intervene.
CBA: How can you address these concerns??
Claudia Bundschuh: By making it clear from the beginning: Anyone can contact us and present their own experiences. We also pick up on positive experiences. In contrast to other projects, we want to make it clear: There were many boys in this boarding school who experienced their time there as very enriching and helpful for their biography. But unfortunately there were also quite a few who were not so lucky. This will also be mentioned in the final report, which is planned for the end of 2016.
CBA: Are there other special features?
Claudia Bundschuh: We focus our attention not only on cases of sexual abuse, but also on physical and psychological abuse. It is very important to us not to create a hierarchy here. I've been working with the ie of sexual violence for 30 years now. But I have become a strong fighter against this basement rally: "Abuse – very bad, mistreatment not so bad." To me it is always important to emphasize: These are different experiences, but it is not for us to judge that some are more problematic than others. Both forms of violence are experienced by the victims as humiliating, as devaluation and as an experience of powerlessness.
CBA: What are the goals of your project?
Claudia Bundschuh: We cannot undo anything or even presume to heal serious injuries. But we want to offer relief to those who have experienced abuse or mistreatment at the Collegium. Therefore, those concerned decide which building blocks the project should have. We ask what they want from the project. There are now countless reports about the structures and backgrounds of the abuse and acts of violence. In these mechanisms, there is no difference between church sponsors, Odenwald schools or other institutions. But where we still have big gaps in our knowledge: What do those affected need now in terms of targeted assistance.
CBA: What do people need?
Claudia Bundschuh: Quite an open ear, patient listening and very important: the recognition and confirmation that what they experienced was not their fault. Nor must we forget the generation. Many have packed these decades into a box, mastered their lives wonderfully, and now everything comes up again that they experienced as children: That they were alone, that there was no one to turn to, and that instead of help they were threatened with further punishment. Here we have to get people out of individualization.
CBA: How many people have contacted you so far?
Claudia Bundschuh: About 20 – mainly with experiences of violence, but some with exclusively positive memories: To get more people to confide in us, we need to communicate credibly and authentically that this is really about them. Many of those affected, we learn again and again, distrust the church as an institution because of their experiences in a church institution and therefore have doubts that an appropriate reappraisal takes place here. Many victims have had the impression in the past that they were used by us and thus even abused for the second time – according to the motto: "I am supposed to give you something so that you can do better in the future." So a certain instrumentalization. This must not happen.

The interview was conducted by Sabine Kleyboldt

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