Cracking down on “spiritual abuse

Cracking down on 'spiritual abuse

The German Bishops' Conference wants to take stronger action against “spiritual abuse” in the church. Bishop Felix Genn advocated developing regulations and standards to recognize spiritual abuse.

When a pastor exploits religious needs of believers for his own goals, this often precedes sexual abuse, Bishop Felix Genn of Munster said Thursday in Leipzig at the start of a conference on the topic. Genn heads the Commission for Spiritual Vocations and Ecclesial Ministries of the Bishops' Conference.

Such abuse of the faithful's relationship with God also has “serious effects on the emotional and psychological state of people,” Genn stressed. Where clear responsibilities for the power and authority involved are not regulated in the various forms of spiritual direction, “the temptation to abuse is at least open,” the bishop acknowledged.

Genn calls for “openness and transparency”

Genn called on the church to prevent such abuse “through courses in good spiritual guidance and leadership”. In addition, it would have to review the associated regulations as well as develop standards to recognize spiritual abuse. Bishop called for “openness and transparency” with regard to the problem, saying otherwise it will “only get bigger, more vulnerable and more difficult”.

The host bishop of Dresden-Meissen, Heinrich Timmerevers, also warned to “look the painful reality in the eye”. With regard to the victims, he said: “Instead of promoting faith, faith in a loving God for these people was permanently damaged and thus our mission to be empathetic pastors was perverted by perpetrators from the ranks of the church.”At the same time, Timmerevers stressed that the commitment against spiritual abuse does not diminish the serious guilt of sexual abuse.

Conference in Dresden

The conference, which runs until Friday, is being organized by the Bishops' Conference together with the Diocese of Dresden-Meissen and the Saxon Medical Association. The event is entitled “Dangerous spiritual guides? Mental and spiritual abuse”.

In an exchange of experts from medicine, psychology, jurisprudence and churches, the event is intended to self-critically question the pastoral actions of the church, according to the bishops' conference. Based on an analysis of the phenomenon of mental and spiritual abuse, possibilities of prevention, reaction and reappraisal are discussed.

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