“We maintain the highest standards”

Young choristers © Ja Crispy (shutterstock)

The ie of sexual abuse hangs over church and society like a shadow. Now come in Paderborn more than 2.700 young people together for Pueri Cantores meeting. Organizers have gone the extra mile when it comes to security.

Interviewer: Paderborn Cathedral is now empty. All the benches have disappeared. This gives the cathedral a very different catch – and it is a rare sight, or?

Thomas Berning (Paderborn Cathedral cantor and project leader of the current Pueri Cantores meeting): Absolutely. I was there last night after the work and am fascinated by the view of the empty cathedral, but also by the changed acoustics. It echoes more and above all differently. One may be very curious how this sounds when the children sing there.

Interviewer: A dome with many more people than usual is probably also something to consider in the security concept.

Berning: We have talked about it for a longer time, of course in close coordination with the responsible municipal officials. Fortunately, there is a rule that says that for large liturgical events the very strict safety standards are applied differently than, for example, for concert events or other commercial things. That helped us a little bit.

But nevertheless, we have to maintain the highest security standards: large security corridors, marking escape routes. All these things have cost us a lot of work.

Interviewer: When one thinks of "security", another topic comes to mind: the terrible acts of abuse against children and young people that have become public. How do you, as the project management team, ensure that parents feel their children are in safe hands in Paderborn?

Berning: On the one hand, we give this information to the parents quite openly. In the overall program that the children receive, there are contact persons in case, for example, they are not properly addressed, that they feel uncomfortable, that they have been harassed. On the other hand, we have also disclosed on our homepage and the Dommusik homepage that all our employees and all helpers – even those who only hand out food at this festival – are trained and prepared in terms of prevention.

Interviewer: The choir meeting begins in the evening. How long have you been working towards this?

Berning: Basically, it started when we were driving home from Trier from the last choir meeting in 2015. There, already in the car, we got the call if we couldn't imagine to be the next ones – and with this day it started. First with the requests to the archdiocese of Paderborn to provide us with the necessary funds, then quite soon with the Herbergche for the many people. This has been on our minds for almost four years.

Interviewer: You mention it: 2.700 children and young people have to be accommodated. What are these hostels? Gymnasiums?

Berning: Unfortunately not anymore. This used to be very popular at choir meetings. The mass accommodation was a very convenient and also bonding accommodation for the choirs. It doesn't even exist anymore due to various security concerns. Also other, worldly organizations cannot fall back on it.

So, as soon as we knew that it was our turn, we blocked all youth hostels and all guest houses within a radius of 40 kilometers for our festival. Fortunately, there is a large, former boarding school near Erwitte. There lay the solution to our last problems: suddenly more than 700 beds opened up. That was brilliant, because we knew: Now we have accommodated all the children.

The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.

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