Central contact person

There should be no trivialization or cover-up when it comes to child abuse, says Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann. And: "We can only apologize for past mistakes in this regard."In his new office, Ackermann will now be able to follow up these clear words with deeds.

At its spring plenary session, which ended on Thursday in Freiburg, the German Catholic Bishops' Conference appointed the head bishop of Trier as the contact person for all "questions relating to the sexual abuse of minors in the ecclesiastical sphere.". This is the first time the Catholic Church in Germany has had a central point of contact for this area. The new abuse commissioner will be supported by a new central office that the church is setting up in the secretariat of the bishops' conference in Bonn. Here, cooperation between dioceses and religious orders is to be expanded. Ackermann and the office should also maintain contact with "civil society initiatives and state activities". In addition, the church is setting up a nationwide telephone hotline. At 46, Ackermann is the second youngest among German diocesan bishops. He has headed the diocese of Trier since mid-May of last year. He is also chairman of the German Commission Justitia et Pax (Justice and Peace). Ackermann was subregen of the episcopal seminary in Trier, then directed the supra-diocesan late-career priest training school Sankt Lambert in Burg Lantershofen. In his function as the bishops' commissioner for abuse, this should benefit him just as much as his leadership style, which he once succinctly described as "cooperative, structured, goal-oriented. Crisis management in his own diocese began for Ackermann a few days ago. In Gerolstein, there was a case of sexual abuse of a teenager by the chaplain at the time in the early 1960s, recently reported the diocese's commissioner for sexual abuse, Rainer Scherschel. He referred to the "files available to him". However, no consequences were drawn from the case at that time. "That," says Scherschel, "was certainly a serious mistake."At the same time, the diocese emphasized in connection with the announcement of the abuse case, it is a complete clarification of all possible cases of abuse. Any victims were explicitly asked to come forward. Ackermann made no secret of his own position. The bishop of Trier emphasized on the fringes of the plenary assembly that the church must first and foremost always think about the protection of the victims. At the same time Ackermann turned against general suspicions. As a result of the abuse scandal, there should not be a "sterile pastoral care" in which every physical contact and every accompaniment of minors by priests triggers suspicion. According to the bishop, a "general look of mistrust" does not lead to the much demanded relaxation in dealing with physicality and sexuality, but rather to new cramps. How pastoral care can look like in the future – the new commissioner for abuse will have to deal with this, too.

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Christina Cherry
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