“It is not possible to talk only about those affected”

The Protestant church is still in the early stages of coming to terms with abuse. This is what Kerstin Claus, a victim of sexual abuse by a Protestant pastor who is even still in office, says. It demands more than declarations of intent.

Interviewer: You were abused as a young girl over a long period of time by a Protestant priest, reported it years later and bit on granite. The man is still in office. That's hard to believe when you hear it like that?

Kerstin Claus (victim of abuse and member of the Council of Victims of Abuse at the Independent Federal Government Commissioner for Questions of Sexual Abuse of Children)): Yes, that's true. It is always difficult. Similar to what has been reported in parts of the Catholic Church, I have experienced how a church takes a massive perpetrator-protective approach. At that time, the pastor confessed his crime, evidence was available, and yet the consequences of the church for him were a requirement for a charitable donation and an apology to me. For me it was also shocking that the priest could even be promoted shortly afterwards.

Interviewer: With that experience in mind, you then heard the announcement: no tolerance for perpetrators and confidants. Could you take them seriously?

Claus: I think this shows quite clearly that a reappraisal is also needed for the Protestant church. A reappraisal of where reported sexual abuse was actually not punished appropriately, where files have disappeared, where those affected were not heard appropriately and where perhaps perpetrators were also transferred. All this must be followed by action. And in my view, the Protestant Church is still at the beginning of this process.

Interviewer: On Sunday, you immediately sent Mr. Bedford-Strohm a text message. Did he answer you?

Claus: Yes, we are in contact. We were also in contact in the past years. This SMS did not come out of nowhere. And I have always reproached it for not finding a solution to a case that is documented and proven, and this pastor can continue to be in office. He also contacted me yesterday and has now at least sent the clear signal that he must contact the state church and his lawyers again there. This is perhaps a first step.

Interviewer: The fact that the EKD synod is dealing with the ie is overdue, you say. Of course, you think it's a good idea, but you criticize the fact that people like you who are affected are not actually involved at all.

Claus: Well, I am a member of the victims' council. There was this big hearing in the summer, where those affected spoke loud and clear. And when this topic is dealt with for the first time at a synod, it is an indictment if those affected are not invited, do not have the right to speak, and this topic is not dealt with on an equal footing and with each other.

Interviewer: The EKD wants to commission two abuse studies – one dark field study and one on risk factors. What do you think of that?

Claus: We find the dark field study very good. And it is very important, because for the first time it can be recorded to what extent sexualized violence against children and young people has actually taken place in the Protestant Church. At the same time, we in the victims' council demand that there also be a campaign in which the church says of its own accord what it understands by sexualized violence. This means that situations where psychological civil closeness was progressively exploited or relationship-like patterns were established that led to physical sexualized violence of disposal are recognized as sexualized violence. A risk analysis is always good, but I think it's ultimately a known fact that proximity-distance behavior fosters sexualized violence.

Interviewer: You are involved in the victims' council. What are your very concrete demands to the Protestant church? What must happen now very urgently?

Claus: It is very important that those affected are involved in the processes. It does not work to talk only about those affected, but one must involve them in the structures and in the procedures. So that it can also be followed up whether these studies actually also answer the urgent questions of those affected.

Access to files is needed, simply to see where proceedings have not been conducted with the appropriate rigor? Where are offenders protected in the structure? And in our eyes, it needs a timetable. There needs to be a schedule of what data will be submitted and by when. Because that's the only way to track processes. And there it needs more than declarations of intention. There is a need for specific timeframes, by when which results should be available.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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Christina Cherry
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