“The perspective of those affected is the most important thing for us”

Oliver Vogt, director of the Institute for Prevention and Reappraisal (IPA) of Sexualized Violence © Julia Steinbrecht (KNA)

This Tuesday, Oliver Vogt takes over as director of the newly formed Institute for Prevention and Recovery. In an interview, he talks about his new task and how he assesses the state of the process of coming to terms with abuse.

CBA: Why is there a need for an additional institute in addition to all the studies, commissions and working groups on the subject of abuse in the Catholic Church?

Oliver Vogt (head of the newly founded Institute for Prevention and Reappraisal of Sexualized Violence, IPA, in Lantershofen, Rhineland-Palatinate): The new institute is to develop standards and foundations for the further development of prevention and reappraisal work. Its task is not to carry out reappraisals itself, but to network and bring together scientists, politicians and other social groups with the dioceses.
CBA: Why is this important?
Vogt: At present, there is no definition of what constitutes a successful reappraisal and what a successful reappraisal can look like. The same applies to prevention. We want to evaluate the work of the Catholic Church in the field of prevention and intervention, develop it further and make the findings available to other groups and institutions working on the ie.
CBA: This requires a certain independence from the church.
Vogt: The IPA is independent and financed by third-party funds. Much of the money currently needed comes from the foundation sector. In the initial phase, the Episcopal See of Trier is also contributing start-up funding.
CBA: The idea comes from the diocese headed by the German Bishops' Conference's abuse commissioner, Trier's Bishop Stephan Ackermann. You yourself have been the Archdiocese of Cologne's intervention officer for years. How have other dioceses reacted to the initiative?
Vogt: Positive throughout so far. Many bishops welcome the fact that there is such an institute, which can discuss fundamental ies on a higher level.
CBA: However, there are different views among the bishops about the progress of the reappraisal.
Vogt: Of course. One requirement will be to bring the relevant efforts and different initiatives to a unified level.
CBA: How are those affected and their concerns integrated into the new institute??
Vogt: The perspective of those affected is the most important thing for us. That's why we want to set up an advisory board in which scientists, representatives of social groups, politicians and those affected participate on an equal footing and also help steer the work of the institute.
CBA: According to your experience from your previous work, for example as an intervention officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne, what moves those affected most at present??
Vogt: One ie is the amption of responsibility. Those affected want someone to take personal responsibility for what happened. This is especially true for those church leaders and others who have not dealt appropriately and consistently with the abuse cases.
CBA: And the other?
Vogt: I hear again and again from those affected that they feel that the services of the Church in acknowledging suffering are inadequate. At present there is also a working group at the level of the Bishops' Conference, in which those affected are involved. Proposals for this topic are to be worked out there. The upcoming fall plenary session of the bishops will also address the ie.
CBA: A recurring point of contention is the disclosure of church files – is there an end to the debate in sight??
Vogt: I experience that there is movement in this area at the moment, but how and in which direction this will be clarified, I can not foresee at this point in time. It is clear that the interests of those affected are justified on this point. They want to know: What is in the files and who knew about the incidents and when?
CBA: But?
Vogt: On the other hand, there is also state legislation that restricts certain things, for example, for reasons of personal rights and data protection. At the moment, this is an obstacle to the inspection of files by those affected, because the church is also bound by these laws.
CBA: The call for a nationwide independent truth commission to further investigate cases of abuse and to derive recommendations and demands from them has recently become louder. What do you think about this?
Vogt: This is a topic that the Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Rorig, also addresses again and again, and not only in the area of the Church. I think that such a step will come and that one must then see how this can be shaped. It needs to be examined, for example, whether a single commission makes sense or whether such bodies would be better set up on a decentralized basis. In any case, it is important that the commissions are independent.
CBA: Some time ago, a chaplain in the diocese of Munster promoted forgiving priests who sexually abused minors. The case caused discussions nationwide. There is still the question of how the church should behave toward the perpetrators.
Vogt: This is probably the most difficult challenge besides dealing with the victims, which has long been anything but good. An offender must be sanctioned and punished. But if he is then out in society and is no longer subject to any control at all, this is also unlikely to be in the interests of those affected. First dioceses are already thinking about something like supervision of conduct and probation commissions. But more consistent measures need to be developed and implemented here.
CBA: Catholic sexual morals should be put to the test in order to be able to counter abuse more effectively in the future?
Vogt: Abuse is first and foremost the act of an individual, committed either because he or she has a mental disorder or because it is about power and living out one's fantasies. But one should not close one's eyes to the fact that a discussion about sexuality or celibacy, the obligatory celibacy of priests, is necessary.
CBA: Recently, the case of Jeffrey Epstein made headlines. The US millionaire hanged himself in his cell for allegedly running a sex trafficking ring with minors. Why actually are the perpetrators – not only in the church milieu – almost exclusively men?
Vogt: Statistics such as police crime statistics show that even outside the Catholic Church, more men than women become offenders. In the search for causes for committing sexual abuse, one-dimensional attempts at explanation, such as abuse experienced in childhood, do not go far enough. Today, there is widespread agreement that various factors in personality and personal biography play a role.
CBA: What does it follow for men who become perpetrators?
Vogt: One explanation for the larger number of male offenders is the theory that psychosocial stress or partnerships perceived as unsatisfactory are amed to be triggering factors. These factors can lead to self-doubt, doubts about masculinity and low self-esteem, and thus trigger acts of abuse. However, it is undisputed that the ie of power and how to deal with it plays a much greater role for men than for women.

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