The Canisius College in Berlin © Christoph Scholz (KNA)
Ten years ago, three former students of Canisius College told Father Mertes that they had been sexually abused. Father made the cases public and called on those affected to come forward.
Exactly ten years ago, three former students of the Berlin Jesuit school Canisius-Kolleg informed the principal, Father Klaus Mertes, about cases of abuse. Mertes made the acts public and called on others affected to come forward. This marked the beginning of the abuse debate in the Catholic Church in Germany, which continues to this day. An overview of ten years of abuse scandal in the Catholic Church:
January 2010: The head of the Jesuit Canisius College in Berlin, Father Klaus Mertes, publicizes the abuse scandal at his school through a letter to former students. Jesuits had sexually abused pupils in the 1970s and 80s. He thus triggers a wave of revelations about abuse cases in the church, but also in schools and other institutions.
February 2010: Bishops ask for apology over abuse cases at their plenary meeting in Freiburg, Germany. Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier becomes special representative for the topic. A hotline for victims is being set up.
March 2010: Church participates in round table set up by federal government.
August 2010: The bishops are tightening up their "guidelines on how to deal with sexual abuse". Credibly suspected clergy must now be immediately suspended from ministry.
September 2010: The president of the Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, proposes a "broad process of reflection" by bishops, priests and lay people. In doing so, the church hopes to regain trust. The bishops present a concept of prevention. Among other things, each diocese is to set up a corresponding office. A "prevention fund" is also established for particularly innovative church projects. The Bishops' Conference presents a concept for the compensation of victims of sexual abuse at the Round Table. This includes the payment of a sum of money, which is supposed to be "financial recognition" of the suffering inflicted.
July 2011: The bishops announce two research projects for the scientific processing of sexual abuse in the church.
December 2012: The results of the first research project are presented. In it, forensic scientist Norbert Leygraf concludes, among other things, that only a few Catholic priests who abused minors were pedophiles in a clinical sense.
August 2013: Bishops' conference ies yet another set of tougher guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse. According to the study, clergy who have abused wards should not be allowed to return to pastoral ministry if "such ministry poses a danger to minors or adult wards or causes a nuisance". The Bishops' Conference rejects a complete ban on employment for priests who have been sexually assaulted, following the example of the U.S. bishops.
March 2014: The bishops commission a research association around the Mannheim psychiatrist Harald Drebing with the scientific reappraisal. The goals are to collect quantitative data on the frequency and handling of sexual acts of abuse against minors by clerics. In addition, perpetrator strategies, victim experience and the behavior of those responsible will be investigated.
2016: A first partial study is presented. The latter had taken a look at abuse investigations from other countries. After that, perpetrators were primarily parish priests and other priests (over 80 percent). About one third were found to be emotionally or sexually immature, one in five had a personality disorder, and 17.7 percent had characteristics of pedophilia. Alcohol dependence was found in 13.1 percent of the offenders.
September 2018: At the bishops' fall plenary assembly, participating scholars present findings of abuse study commissioned by bishops. Accordingly, the researchers have recommended 3.677 victims of sexual assault by at least 1.670 priests and religious found in files from 1946 to 2014. The bishops adopt a seven-point plan in which they commit, among other things, to involving victims of abuse and external independent experts more closely in the process of coming to terms with it. They also want to clarify who bore institutional responsibility beyond the perpetrators, such as for cover-ups or the transfer of perpetrators.
March 2019: After intensive wrangling, the German bishops decide on a "binding synodal path" to regain trust after the abuse scandal and to ask about the systemic causes of the abuse.
September 2019: Bishops decide in Fulda to reorganize and significantly expand compensation for victims. A heated debate ensues over the amount of compensation and whether the money should be paid from church taxes. A working group set up by the bishops' conference had proposed compensation of up to 400.000 euros recommended.
September 2019: The Institute for Prevention and Reappraisal of Sexualized Violence (IPA) in Lantershofen begins its work. As a "think tank," the ecclesiastical institute is to network actors in the fight against abuse, put previous measures to the test and look for new ideas, for example in the area of further education.
November 2019: The German government's abuse commissioner, Johannes-Wilhelm Rorig, and Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann agree on key points for coming to terms with sexual abuse. Accordingly, the processing in the Catholic dioceses should be transparent and according to uniform criteria. Also, independent experts are to participate in the process.
December 2019: Top representatives from politics and civil society attend the kick-off meeting of a national council to combat sexual abuse. It is to permanently secure the structures for protection, prevention and intervention in cases of sexualized violence against children and adolescents.
December 2019: Bishops' Conference publishes new tightened guidelines for dealing with abuse cases and announces plans to set up an advisory council for victims.
December 2019: Pope Francis abolishes the "papal secret" in the prosecution of abuse cases. An instruction replaces the strictest duty of confidentiality previously applicable in church criminal proceedings for sexual offenses, such as sexual acts with minors, possession and distribution of child pornography material, and cover-ups.