In the beginning there was a letter

A few weeks ago, a public study of clerical abuse in Pennsylvania sparked horror. Now new figures are also becoming known for Germany. A shock for many Catholics.

It was probably one of the darkest years in the recent history of the Catholic Church in Germany. At the end of January 2010, the abuse scandal started rolling and plunged bishops, priests and laity into a deep crisis of confidence. The scandal also opened the way for a new culture of dialogue within the church and triggered a debate on reform.

The waters smoothed out again. Until this Wednesday, when the first results of the new abuse study by the German Bishops' Conference became known.

Father Klaus Mertes writes letter

In the beginning there was a letter. Father Klaus Mertes, then rector of the Berlin Jesuit high school Canisius-Kolleg, wrote this to 600 alumni. The message: Fathers of the order had sexually abused pupils in the 1970s and 80s – systematically and for years.

The letter, which was published on 28. When the scandal became known on January 1, 2010, it triggered an avalanche: the scandal spread to other religious schools, it also affected Protestant institutions and secular institutions such as the Odenwald School, sports clubs and even the Green Party.

"How could such abuse be possible – in a church that stands for such high moral values, that claims to be able to provide answers to the deepest questions of what it means to be human??", asked Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode. The fallout is deeper than at other institutions.

Many departures from the church

A receipt: In 2010, more Catholics turned their backs on the church than in a long time, namely 181.193. Jesuit Father Friedhelm Mennekes made massive impact on pastoral care. "I used to talk to people nicely, but now you're immediately seen as a potential seducer of children," he said. The clergymen are "with their backs to the wall".

The bishops reacted with a series of measures. In March 2010 they asked the victims for apology. Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier was appointed abuse commissioner, and a hotline was set up. In the summer, the bishops ied guidelines for dealing with offenders, which were tightened in 2013. In addition, they adopted a prevention concept.

In addition, the Bishops' Conference was the first institution to present a model for material recognition of injustice. According to the conference, victims should receive up to 5.000 euros received – for critics, however, too small a sum.

Bishops' Conference attaches importance to coming to terms

The Bishops' Conference also placed a lot of emphasis on scientific reappraisal. An initial research project went smoothly: a study conducted by Norbert Leygraf, director of the Essen Institute for Forensic Psychiatry, concluded in 2012 that priests who abuse minors are pedophiles in the rarest of cases. The acts would mostly be committed against the background of a personal crisis.

A second research project, awarded to the Hanover criminologist Christian Pfeiffer in 2011, initially proved to be a PR disaster: it was supposed to produce reliable figures on the abuse through file studies, trace the course of the acts from the perspective of the victims, analyze the actions of the perpetrators and clarify how the church had behaved. But at the beginning of 2013, the bishops terminated the cooperation. The trust relationship to Pfeiffer is shattered.

However, there was probably also considerable resistance within the church, because the researcher was supposed to gain insight into as many personnel files of the 27 dioceses as possible. Pfeiffer, who is media savvy, did not put up with it: He spoke of censorship and destruction of files.

Topic at the fall plenary session

At the same time, however, he let it be known that he considers sexual abuse in the church to be no more widespread than elsewhere. In spring 2014, the bishops then made a second attempt and awarded the research project to a group of seven scientists led by forensic psychiatrist Harald Drebing.

Actually, the results of this study should have been presented at the autumn plenary meeting of the Bishops' Conference on 25 September. September will be presented. Now the first results have become known in advance:

Between 1946 and 2014, the study counts 3.677 mainly male minors as victims of sexual offenses. 1.670 clerics are accused of the deeds. These are figures that will once again put the ie of abuse on the public agenda with great force.

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Christina Cherry
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