Press conference at the end of the fall plenary session © Julia Steinbrecht (KNA)
At the end of the autumn plenary meeting of the German Catholic bishops, there is a uniform procedure for one-time payments to victims of sexual abuse in the church. There is also movement on other ies.
The amount of one-time payments to victims of sexual abuse in the church will in the future be based on judgments of state courts on compensation for pain and suffering. According to Batzing, this results in a benefit framework of up to 50.000 euros. In addition, as is already the case, victims can be reimbursed for costs of therapy or couples counseling.
The Bishop of Limburg emphasized that an independent decision-making body would determine the amount of the payment on an individual basis. It should include seven men and women from the fields of medicine, law, psychology and education. The members must not be in an employment relationship with an ecclesiastical institution.
Batzing further explained that the decision-making body would also order the sums to be paid in order to speed up the process. Members of the panel will be selected by a committee, the majority of whom will be non-clerical representatives. This is how independence is to be ensured. Participation of those affected will be guaranteed, said the Limburg bishop.
Compensation payments apply to all dioceses
At the same time, he emphasized that this should guarantee a uniform benefit framework for all 27 dioceses. However, solutions that have already been found in recent years and have led to a pacification between victims and dioceses should continue to exist.
With regard to cases of abuse in religious orders, Batzing emphasized that some orders need financial support from the dioceses. "The plenary assembly has reaffirmed the will to introduce such a solidarity component in favor of the religious orders. We will now approach the religious congregations with a concrete model."
So far, victims receive an average payment of 5.000 euros, in hardship cases also more. An independent working group set up by the Bishops' Conference had in the meantime estimated sums of up to 400.000 euros proposed.
Batzing further announced that the victims' advisory council at the bishops' conference can also begin its work. It should constitute itself in November. A selection committee of mostly non-church members had agreed on twelve people who in the future can specifically bring the interests of those affected into the work of the Bishops' Conference.
The abuse commissioner of the Bishops' Conference, Stephan Ackermann, ruled out resignations of bishops in an interview with catholic.de not out. This could be the case, for example, if one comes to the conclusion: "People did not live up to their responsibility and therefore other people were harmed. Or if also in the church public the impression develops, there someone does not enjoy any longer the confidence, in order to carry the responsibility, in which it stands straight."
The religion-political speaker of the FDP, Benjamin Strasser, welcomed the agreement in principle. "The bishops' conference has provided much-needed clarity on the new system of compensation for victims of abuse in the Catholic Church," Strasser said. He said it was important that the amount of compensation be determined individually for those affected by an independent body. Unfortunately, however, the Bishops' Conference is again wasting time, since claims can only be filed and examined as of next year.
The spokesman for the victims' initiative "Eckiger Tisch," Mathias Katsch, criticized in Fulda that victims' representatives had not been included in the new deliberations. He described the application of the civil law table of damages for pain and suffering as inappropriate.
Bishops respond to Roman ecumenical brake
The German Catholic bishops have also decided to postpone indefinitely a vote on possibilities for Eucharistic hospitality between Protestants and Catholics. As Bishop Georg Batzing explained, this respects the objections from Rome, which have created a new situation. Now the Ecumenical Working Group (oAK) should first react to the criticism from the Vatican. After that, the debate would have to continue.
Following this decision, it is considered unlikely that the form of sacramental hospitality proposed by the oAK will be officially practiced at the upcoming Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt in 2021. But there will probably be no explicit ban on reciprocal invitations across denominational boundaries either.
Mutual invitation to Eucharist had been proposed last year
Last September, the oAK had proposed that in the future, the Protestant and Catholic churches should allow their members to participate in communion or Eucharist at services of the other denomination. The text, for which Batzing was also co-responsible, was intended to help overcome a long-standing deadlock. The mutual invitation should also be practiced at the Kirchentag in Frankfurt.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith contradicted this vote over the weekend and ied a theologically justified rejection of mutual invitations to the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist by Catholics and Protestants. The differences in the understanding of the Eucharist and ministry are "still so weighty" that they currently preclude Catholic and Protestant Christians from participating in the celebration of each other's confession. There is also no basis for an "individual decision of conscience," according to a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Batzing, which is available to the Catholic News Agency (KNA). The letter is accompanied by a theological appendix.
According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, some questions of the "basic Catholic understanding of church, Eucharist and ordained ministry" are "not sufficiently clarified" in the oAK document. An opening for a Eucharistic meal communion with the Protestant Church in Germany would furthermore "necessarily open up new rifts in the ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches" beyond Germany's borders at the present stage.
Bishops want to deal more with church departures
In addition, the Catholic bishops were shocked by the high number of people leaving the church in Germany. The results of the latest church statistics are frightening, Batzing continued. 2019 was a high of 272.771 Catholics left the church. The number of churchgoers and the administration of sacraments had also declined.
Batzing announced that the bishops' conference would in the future deal more intensively with the reasons. However, according to the Limburg bishop, they expect a trend toward a "significantly smaller church" that would be difficult to reverse.
Disenchantment and secularization decisive factors
The decisive factor for the high number of resignations in 2019 was not least the results of the abuse study of the Bishops' Conference published in 2018, Batzing explained. Accordingly, 3.677 victims of sexual assaults by at least 1.670 priests and religious found in files from 1946 to 2014.
At the same time, however, the Limburg bishop emphasized that there are also long-term processes of secularization that lead to religion and the church losing their significance. The main reasons for leaving the church are religious indifference and mistrust of the church institution, which is not seen as credible.
A decisive factor for "religious musicality" is the passing on of faith in the family, Batzing added. "The probability, however, of growing up in a religious or religiously open family becomes smaller from generation to generation."These findings provide the church with some initial pointers on how to strengthen people's ties to the church and awaken new enthusiasm.
"Against the background of the secularization theory, however, all efforts will not change the fundamental and long-term trend of the loss of importance of religion and church," said Batzing. "If the developments described continue, the Christian churches will become a minority in a majority religiously indifferent environment."
European undercutting competition for refugees
The bishops have also deplored a humanitarian undercutting competition in dealing with refugees in Europe. The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, called on Thursday in Fulda for the EU to adopt a coordinated procedure for accepting refugees. "The disastrous conditions must be brought to an end."
The bishops demanded that Europe must find the strength to fundamentally reform its common asylum system. "What is needed is an effective and solidarity-based distribution mechanism among the states of Europe, safe access routes to Europe, high standards of reception and procedures that are accepted and implemented by all member states, and greater support for non-European host states."
Christian duty to help
With regard to the situation on the Greek island of Lesbos, Batzing demanded that the protection seekers should soon be brought to the European mainland and received in Germany and other EU countries. That is a Christian duty. "If some European countries continue to categorically refuse to accept humanitarian aid, the others must take a courageous step forward." Batzing expressed her gratitude that Germany has meanwhile agreed to contribute about 1.500 refugees from the Greek islands. "However, further steps must urgently follow."
According to the bishops' conference, the 27 dioceses and church aid agencies have allocated some 116.1 million euros in special funds for refugee aid in 2019: 38.7 million euros for projects in Germany and 77.4 million euros to support those seeking protection in other countries. In 2018, the total had been around 125.5 million euros. As in the previous year, in 2019 there were about 5.100 employees work full-time in the church's refugee aid program. In addition, there were about 45.000 volunteers. For the first time, figures on the area of family reunification were also collected for 2019. According to the report, the (arch)dioceses have spent about 663.000 euros to help more than 2.000 people to be reunited with their families.