“With united forces”

Catholic Church presents abuse study © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

The Catholic bishops will present an eagerly awaited study on sexual abuse by clergy on Tuesday. In the run-up to the event, politicians, experts and representatives of those affected called for new measures against abuse.

The "Independent Commission for Coming to Terms with Child Sexual Abuse" said the findings of the latest study commissioned by the bishops showed that power structures within the church, in particular, undermine the protection of children and the rights of victims.

An "analysis of perpetrator-friendly strategies" within the church is urgently needed. So far, the perpetrators would have to fear little, even after the acts became known, because only in the case of one third of all the accused, proceedings under canon law had been opened. Of these, a quarter had ended with no sanctions at all. Often, she said, accused persons were transferred to another parish without informing it.

Critical reviews

The church must critically examine the seal of confession, as well as parish and pastoral work. She would have to consequently deal with celibacy and her attitude towards sexuality. They also call for an end to clericalism. The handling of victims shows until today that their rights to clarification and compensation bounce off the hierarchy, the intransparency and the power structures of the church.

In addition, the church archives would have to be opened to ensure independent research and reappraisal. The religious orders, too, would have to provide independent clarification and reappraisal. In addition, the commission advocates a "generous solution for payments" to the victims. It is important for those affected and for society as a whole that the church acknowledges its guilt and accepts its responsibility. The commission, which is attached to the federal government's commissioner for abuse, began its three-year work at the beginning of 2016. It should investigate the extent and consequences of child abuse in Germany.

Reference to Pope Francis

Former German Vatican ambassador Annette Schavan also called for "profound changes" in the Catholic Church. In view of the "serious breach of trust" caused by sexual abuse, the conditions in the church that made the acts possible in the first place must change, she said on rbb-Inforadio.

Pope Francis, she said, has repeatedly denounced clericalism and abuse of power in the church. "That's exactly where we need to start now," says former science minister. The necessary "turning point" that Cardinal Reinhard Marx spoke of in Fulda on Monday would only be possible "with united forces", together with the faithful.

Affected persons in the foreground

The study is a starting point for further in-depth research, Schavan said. Individual bishops have already announced this and commissioned it for their diocese, he said. For a real "turnaround" there now needs to be a change of perspective. Schavan criticized that allegations of sexualized violence often focus too much on the question of how to protect the church. Instead, he said, the focus should be on the situation of those affected and their protection. "That is the turn, and that leads then also to the fact that everything at documents, which is present must be consulted."

The faithful would also have to make their will clear "that really everything is cleared up" and "that the conditions for the abuse of power are really put aside," the studied theologian said. She pointed out that "anyone who is not part of the ministry in the Catholic Church is called a layperson. That has a certain connotation. That is no longer in keeping with the times, nor does it do justice to the Church," said Schavan. "I think this is what the pope means by clericalism and abuse of power."

"Not at eye level"

The victims' initiative "Eckiger Tisch" called on the Catholic bishops to approach those affected by sexual abuse by clergy more strongly than before. "For too long they have avoided really seeing eye-to-eye with us and actually taking us seriously," said the initiative's co-founder, Matthias Katsch. In his view, there have been too few direct discussions between bishops, other high-ranking church representatives and victims of abuse.

Sometimes even an "alleged consideration for the victims" was pretended, in order "only yes not to have to become active", added Katsch, who had been abused as a student at the Catholic Canisius College in Berlin. For example, it has been argued again and again that one would rather not actively approach those affected so as not to traumatize them again. "This is nonsense," the victim's representative continued: "If a person affected no longer wants to talk about it, he can say so himself, but he must not be spared the question."

"Being concerned is not enough"

At the same time, Katsch called on politicians and society to exert more influence on the churches so that they "deal more openly and transparently with the subject of abuse, cooperate better with the judicial authorities and also pay higher recognition benefits".

In view of the results of the new abuse study, the church must be prepared to actually draw consequences "and not just again express dismay and ask for apologies," Katsch emphasized. Bishops would also have to take personal responsibility should they have acted wrongly in their current or former area of responsibility on the subject of abuse.

"The crucial thing is missing"

Similarly, the criminologist Christian Pfeiffer expressed himself in the "Passauer Neue Presse". If the church wants to win back the trust of the faithful, it must disclose where it has made mistakes, Pfeiffer said, and also called for personnel consequences. In foreign countries, moreover, those affected by abuse had been paid much more money as recognition for the suffering they had endured.

"The study is exemplary and excellently prepared," Pfeiffer said. "But the crucial thing is missing: we don't know who those responsible are."It is to be amed besides from a high dark number. As an example, the criminologist referred, among other things, to the investigations by government agencies in the U.S. church. There had been "full transparency". This must also happen in Germany. "All this verbal shake-up rhetoric we're hearing today doesn't convince me until the church is consistent and really exposes things."

Jesuit Mertes appreciates study and calls for further consequences

For the Jesuit Klaus Mertes, the "Study on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the area of the German Bishops' Conference", which was officially presented on Tuesday, documents shocking cases. The study shows "that and how systematically perpetrators proceed, so that for one perpetrator there is then far more than one victim, in some cases even more than a hundred," Mertes told the Catholic News Agency (KNA) in Freiburg.

It is also clear that there is a lack of remorse on the part of perpetrators, as well as a "varying readiness to clarify things" on the part of the German dioceses. At the same time, he praised the study: "I think one must also praise Bishop Ackermann and those who stand behind this mission once."

"What do we have to change in our country??"

Mertes, who since 2010 took on a decisive role in the processing of abuse cases in Catholic schools, stressed that at the beginning and center of all efforts for further processing must be the conversation with those affected. The key question is: "What do we have to change in order to be able to listen to victims better when they speak??"

The Jesuit spoke out in favor of further investigations into "processes of cover-up". Until today, there are people who put the protection of institutions and perpetrators before the protection of victims. "The failure of the institution is at least as painful for victims as the sexualized act of violence itself," Mertes said. He called for action against abuse of power in the "male clergy": "A first, very uncomplicated step would be to admit women to the diaconate."

"Tip of the iceberg"

Initial figures of the study presented at the service had already become known in advance: In the church files from 1946 to 2014, the research team found evidence of 3 according to the study.677 victims of sexual assault and on about 1.670 accused priests, deacons and religious.

The co-founder of the Catholic lay organization "We are Church," Christian Weisner, called on state authorities to do more to combat sexualized violence behind church walls. "The state has the task of protecting children and young people in society," Weisner told the radio station Bayern 2. The abuse study shows only the "tip of the iceberg", because not all 27 dioceses have opened their archives.

Barley on the study: Church must take responsibility

Federal Justice Minister Kataraina Barley (SPD) has called for consequences in view of the study on abuse in the Catholic Church. The dioceses and religious orders must finally take responsibility for decades of cover-up and denial, Barley explained in Berlin on Tuesday. "The massive abuse of trust, dependence and power from within the church is intolerable. Immeasurable suffering has been inflicted on children that haunts them for a lifetime."

Only if the Catholic Church seriously confronts the debate about power structures and sexual morality can it regain credibility, the SPD politician continued. Silence cartels should no longer exist. Instead, there needs to be a culture of looking and intervening. Prevention is also the best protection for victims.

The Minister of Justice demanded that the church report every act. The rule of law can only function, he said, if deeds are reported to it. The church must ensure through independent investigations that the suffering of the victims is documented and the crimes of the perpetrators are solved.

At the same time, she praised the courage of those affected "to talk about these terrible experiences despite all the entrenched taboos". A removal of taboos is necessary, so that more perpetrators would be held accountable and new acts would be prevented.

Giffey: Church must come to terms with abuse honestly and comprehensively

Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD) has demanded that the Catholic Church "honestly and comprehensively come to terms" with the abuse of minors. "I expect relentless clarification," Giffey said in Berlin on Tuesday ahead of the publication of the abuse study.

Giffey went on to stress that it is not just a matter of looking to the past. "The thought that even today people in the Catholic Church bear responsibility who have sexually abused children is unbearable," she said. "People who do such things have no place in any office of the church." It expects consistent action on the part of the church.

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