End of a special path

The diocese of Speyer gives up its special way of dealing with cases of sexual abuse and adopts the guidelines of the Bishops' Conference. Until now, the alleged victim alone was master of the proceedings. Now the obligation to report applies.

The victims come first. This was the message of the diocese of Speyer when it was explained in mid-March how to deal with men and women who had been sexually abused by church officials. The central sentences of the declaration: "Everything entrusted to the lawyer in his function as ombudsman is subject to his professional secrecy without restriction. This also applies to the diocese."

In the background, there is a conflict between two meaningful but conflicting interests. On the one hand, the willingness to make the alleged victim alone the master of the proceedings. "Information control autonomy" is the nice word used by Ludwigshafen lawyer Rudiger Weidhaas, who had taken over the ombudsman function, to describe the Speyer approach. This is set against the goals of the best possible prosecution of perpetrators and transparency.

Only the victim could waive the obligation of secrecy
Speyer made a conscious decision at the height of the abuse scandal to appoint an ombudsman instead of a volunteer contact person as a point of contact. The Jesuits proceeded similarly. Commissioned by the southwest German diocese was a criminal lawyer who does not belong to the Catholic Church. Since then victims, witnesses and perpetrators have been able to contact him. Even regardless of whether they are church members or employed there. The charm of the solution consisted in the absolute, professionally determined duty of confidentiality of the lawyer. This could only be lifted by those seeking help themselves. And only if desired, Weidhaas arranged contacts with church and state authorities. He sent his bill to Vicar General Franz Jung, who was responsible for the model together with Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann.

But this model cannot now be reconciled with the guidelines adopted by the bishops' conference in the summer, as Jung emphasized. Secrecy was no longer guaranteed, since now the bishop had to be informed about each case and had the ultimate responsibility. It was disputed whether there should be a general obligation in the new guidelines to call in the public prosecutor's office in the case of any justified suspicion.

Controversial obligation to report
Many, including psychologists, lawyers and victim advocacy groups, opposed automaticity. Without an unconditional reporting requirement, however, accusations of a cover-up would have reared their heads again. The bishops have managed to get out of this problem with a compromise: If there are indications of suspected abuse, the prosecution authorities will receive the information. This obligation does not apply if this corresponds to the wish of the victim and is documented in writing.

The outgoing ombudsman reported that most people who spoke to him "just wanted to pour out their hearts". It was almost never about money. In one case, he had arranged for Jung to apologize to a victim on behalf of the Catholic Church for injustice suffered. The abuses, the lawyer concluded, were encouraged by the certainty that the victims had not been listened to by either state or church authorities. The knowledge of this helplessness has led to despair and resignation among victims and to "cynical behavior" among perpetrators.

The diocese's contact person in accordance with the new guidelines will now be Franz Leidecker, the deputy police chief of Ludwigshafen. For him, too, the victims are to be in the foreground.

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Christina Cherry
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