For the fight against abuse, it should be a milestone: This Monday, Bishop Ackermann signed an agreement with the federal government to come to terms with the ie. The Catholic Church is thus taking on a pioneering role.
The Catholic Church was the first institution in Germany to reach an agreement with the German government's abuse commissioner on dealing with sexual abuse.
In the fight against sexualized violence, it can become a blueprint for other institutions. In the Protestant church, for example, or in schools and sports clubs, such a declaration is still pending.
After the Bishops' Conference agreed on a new system of compensation in March, giving victims up to 50.000 euros, it has also taken a step forward on the road to coming to terms with the past.
Dioceses must now implement the criteria and standards. The agreement, drawn up together with the Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Rorig, comprises eight pages.
Behind the unwieldy title "Joint Declaration on Binding Criteria and Standards for an Independent Reappraisal of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany" lies nothing less than the commitment of the bishops to reappraise abuse in their dioceses according to defined and transparent rules.
The focus is on commissions that will now be set up in all dioceses and in which, in addition to representatives of the diocese and experts from science, justice and administration, those affected will also sit.
Coordinated cooperation between dioceses agreed
It was a long way to the signing: It took about a year of intensive negotiations until it was ready to be signed. First talks began at the end of 2018 after the publication of the MHG study on abuse in the Catholic Church. At the end of 2019, Rorig and the abuse commissioner of the Bishops' Conference, Bishop Stephan Ackermann, then agreed on key points. The final wording was discussed at the spring plenary meeting of the Bishops' Conference in March and at a further meeting at the end of April.
The reappraisal should also deal with those cases that can no longer be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations or the death of those involved. In addition to the quantitative survey of abuse, it should be investigated how those responsible in the dioceses have dealt with the perpetrators and those affected by it. Structures are also to be named that have enabled or encouraged sexual abuse of minors by clergy and church employees.
A coordinated cooperation between the dioceses is agreed upon. A separate office at the Bishops' Conference is to coordinate joint appointments and monitoring, among other things. A final report is then planned in five years.
Criticism even before the signing
After signing, each of the 27 dioceses is to commit to the mandatory standards. Rorig has begun talks with the bishops on this ie. If there is already a comprehensive reappraisal in individual dioceses, the bishop can sign an adapted declaration after agreement with Rorig, which takes into account the work done so far. However, there is not yet a concrete timetable for the implementation and the establishment of the commissions.
Even before the agreement was signed, there was criticism – on the one hand from the victims' council in the archdiocese of Cologne, and on the other from Jesuit Father Klaus Mertes, who as director of the Canisius College in Berlin was instrumental in making the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church public. Both criticize that the influence of the bishops in the reappraisal is still too great. The bishops should not exert any influence on the composition of the commissions, writes Mertes in an article for the "Herder-Korrespondenz".
How well and independently the reappraisal actually works, will soon be seen. A first test for the agreement could be the processing of the abuse allegations that have become known in the former Catholic youth facility Piusheim near Munich. The Catholic religious orders are not yet included in the agreement; Rorig is now entering into talks with the Conference of the Superiors of Religious Orders.