Somehow in the middle of the controversy: Bishop Gebhard Furst © Christoph Schmidt
At first glance, the ie is privacy rights of employees and abuse. In fact, the employees' side in the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese wants to raise the ie of power in the Catholic Church.
Even almost unnoticed by the inner-church public, a dispute that is difficult to understand is making its way through the church's legal instances: The "Employee Representation of the Wurttemberg Commission for the Regulation of Diocesan Employment Contract Law" (KODA) is taking ie with the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, including Bishop Gebhard Furst, over the regulation for the prevention of sexual abuse.
However, this is not really about the sensitive ie of abuse, but solely about whether employees have a say in the drafting of such regulations.
In the judgment of the first instance at the diocesan level, the plaintiff's side was proven right: the diocese should not have simply ied the order, but should have first discussed it from the perspective of labor law in the commission, which is made up of equal numbers of employers and employees. Nevertheless, the order remained in force, but must be discussed in the commission in case of future changes and may not be decreed. The court did not allow an appeal.
Addressing power relations in church structures
The order ied in 2015 under considerable public prere provides for the obligation to submit an extended police certificate of good conduct for employees. While the diocese takes note of the ruling, the first of its kind in Germany, and intends to proceed in accordance with the court order in the future, the employee side, despite its partial success, is turning to the Ecclesiastical Labor Court in Bonn with a non-admissibility appeal. Both sides seem to think that it is very unlikely that the appeal will be successful. At least on that point there is agreement.
But what exactly is at stake? Do employee representatives want to undermine the legal standards for the prevention of abuse? No, says Thomas Munch, spokesman for the service employees in the KODA: "Quite the opposite." Prevention is extremely important. According to Munch, he rather wants to address power relations that exist in church structures and go "in the direction of absolutism and autocracy".
Munch, who is retiring at the end of the month, sees a fundamental need for reform of church labor law and calls, for example, for the possibility of norm control lawsuits. Not least against the background of the "Synodal Way" announced by the bishops, Munch apparently thinks the time is ripe to address ies such as inner-church democracy and to fight them out in court.
Munch sees that the problem of sexual abuse is rather unsuitable for such fundamental conflicts and can provoke many misunderstandings. "But unfortunately there was no other litigation available," he says dryly. According to his assessment, the debate is already bearing fruit. Other dioceses see that they always have to involve the KODA in matters of labor law.
Diocese assesses controversy as "completely unreasonable"
In the diocese, the controversy is judged to be "completely unreasonable" because there is largely agreement on the substance of the matter. Questioning the obligation to present a certificate of good conduct in order to discuss legal-theoretical ies is incomprehensible – factually and politically, he said.
This position seems plausible, especially since the church court, referring to the role of the bishops as local legislators, left the provision itself untouched. In addition, Vicar General Clemens Stroppel had promised in writing that amendments would only be included in the employment contract law and prevention regulations after a KODA decision had been made. Thus the non-admission complaint with the diocese management causes further irritations.
Nevertheless, the case continues. In Bonn, it can easily become autumn until the second instance has reached a conclusion. The case could be taken to the extreme if, after exhausting the legal channels available to the church, the employees were to choose to go to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe – if that were permissible at all. But hardly any ie is currently so blatantly unresolved legally at the EU level as the question of how to deal with the different state-church relations.
At the diocesan level, a new resolution on the subject of the Preventive Order could be passed as early as July. It is quite possible that it will then be a question of factual ies: employee rights and prevention of abuse.