A diocese faces up to criticism

The case of the Aachen priest who allegedly sexually abused altar boys has been making headlines across Germany for months. In Viersen, it was now the subject of a discussion – which once again made it clear that the church is facing great challenges.

Already the topic of the evening is explosive. The case of the priest Georg K., who is alleged to have sexually abused altar boys in parishes on the Lower Rhine and during his stay abroad in South Africa, has dominated nationwide public discussion for months. The podium also holds an explosive tension. Finally, Johannes Heibel, chairman of the Initiative against Violence and Sexual Abuse of Children and Adolescents, the case K. made public and accused the responsible diocese Aachen of a too lax handling with the clergyman. Now, on Monday evening in Viersen – that is, very close to the clergyman's former places of work – he discussed the case with the diocese's personnel director, Heiner Schmitz. An offensive for clarification. At the invitation of the diocese, relatives of victims and volunteers from the parishes are also there, and they have also brought their critical questions with them. Meanwhile: The evening proceeds in a peaceful and objective atmosphere. Schmitz does not conceal the fact that Heibel's persistence had "personally been breathing down his neck". Without the agreement of the diocese, Heibel had been a chaplain in K.'s former congregations and accused the church of not taking warnings seriously enough. In the meantime, however, both have spoken out – and the personnel director even thanks Heibel for bringing the case K. made public in this way. Heibel himself also finds words of thanks: Schmitz was the first church representative to thank the association for its educational work.

Objective atmosphere Schmitz's self-criticism also contributes to the objective atmosphere. He reports on an anonymous letter to the diocese, which speaks of "pastoral saunas with partly underage altar boys" in 2003. At the time, the diocese of K. Schmitz took him to task, forbade the sweating in the parsonage, and thus saw the problem solved. The diocese did not see any evidence of sexual abuse at that time. After the experiences of the last months and the knowledge of today, he would now classify such a letter differently and make more intensive research, emphasizes Schmitz. Several times he emphasizes that the church is learning in dealing with pedophile priests and needs time to reposition itself with the help of professional advisors. Schmitz, who had served for over six years in a neighboring parish of K. Schmitz, who was a pastor, also admits that for a long time he did not believe in sexual abuse by his confrere – especially since there are exculpatory statements from former youth leaders. The tide only turned at the beginning of January, when the father of the now 22-year-old Christopher contacted him, whom he knew personally and considered absolutely credible. Christopher accuses K. of having been a member of the association since he was 12 years old. to have abused the child before the age of 18.

Major challenges The discussion about this specific case makes it clear that abuse victims pose great challenges for the church. Schmitz reports that he maintained discretion in accordance with the father's wishes. At the same time, he advised that the son, who is of age, should contact the public prosecutor's office or the church's abuse commissioner. Then the contact broke off. He was all the more surprised that the case was then made public by a news magazine – with Heibel's help. This makes clear why he and not the church found access to the young man. Heibel has been dealing with the ie of sexual abuse for 17 years and knows that victims who have come forward expect to be kept in contact with. Accordingly, he repeatedly contacted Christopher – and finally persuaded him to press charges. The diocese is now also drawing its conclusions from this experience. In addition to the already installed abuse commissioner, there should be another person in the diocese in the future who will specifically take care of the care and aftercare of victims. And: Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff wants to appoint an additional female abuse commissioner.

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Christina Cherry
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