A shocking study on decades of sexual abuse of children and adolescents puts pressure on the catholic church in germany to reform.
The study presented in fulda not only shows the considerable misconduct of catholic clergy in past decades, but also identifies problematic structures that could foster abuse traps even today. The head of the study, harald drebing, emphasized that the issue of abuse is therefore by no means over. "The risk continues," he said.
The study found, among other things, that between 1946 and 2014, at least 1670 catholic clerics allegedly abused 3677 mostly male minors.
With regard to the continuing risk, drebing said that the reasons for this could be, for example, the abuse of the clerical power, the obligation of the priests to be celibate, as well as an internal "problematic handling" of the subject of sexuality – especially homosexuality. The forensic psychiatrist from the central institute for mental health in mannheim stressed that if the church really wants to overcome the abuse issue in the future, it must deal with these issues "seriously and with the courage to change".
In view of an enormous dark figure, the numbers and rates now determined are at most "the tip of an iceberg". Drebing complained about a lack of will to clarify the situation in large parts of the church. The extent of the abuse and "the way those responsible dealt with it" were "shocking". In church files, evidence of sexual abuse of minors was found in 4.4 percent of all clergy who had been active between 1946 and 2014 and who had files on them, drebing said.
The president of the german catholic bishops’ conference, reinhard marx, said that the structural questions mentioned by the researchers must be answered. Accumulation of power, which is not controlled, could "possibly lead people into temptation". The munich cardinal also stressed that the researchers had confirmed that celibacy and homosexuality "in themselves" did not cause abuse, "but they can be part of an overall problem. And that has to be addressed, we will discuss that".
Marx had indicated on monday that the bishops also wanted to discuss possible structural changes in the church during their autumn plenary meeting in fulda this week – the study provides for "a turning point". He stated: "many people no longer believe us. And I understand that."He did not give details of possible reforms – he only said: "we must go new ways as far as prevention and the selection of priests are concerned."
Federal family minister franziska giffey (SPD) said the study must be the starting point for an "unsparing clarification". Justice minister katarina barley (SPD) demanded that the church report every crime. "The rule of law can only function if acts are reported to it."In 2010, the catholic bishops had already tightened their regulations in this context; since then, according to church information, the public prosecutor’s office is automatically called in whenever sexual abuse is suspected. The obligation to report is only waived if the victim expressly wishes to do so, he said.
Marx said that for too long the church had "denied abuse, looked the other way and covered it up". "For this failure and for all the pain i apologize."He was ashamed "for the trust that had been destroyed; for the crimes that had been done to people by officials of the church. And he feels shame for "the looking away of many".
Critics complained that the study did not come close to reflecting the actual extent of abuse in the catholic church. The authors of the study commissioned by the bishops’ conference four and a half years ago were not given access to original documents in the church archives. In addition, testimonies from victims were missing, and cases of abuse, for example in catholic homes, institutions and psychiatric clinics or in the numerous religious communities, were not taken into account.
On top of that, the study does not mention any names. There are also no figures broken down to individual bistums – for contractual reasons, as drebing says. The criminologist christian pfeiffer described this action of the bishops in the "passauer neue presse" as "organized irresponsibility". The study was excellently prepared, he said. "But the crucial thing is missing: we don’t know who are the people responsible."
In view of the scandal, demands are being made for a state commission of inquiry and considerably higher compensation payments for the victims of abuse. Bishop stephan ackermann of trier, who is responsible for abuse issues at the bishops’ conference, said that the recognition process for victims was being "put to the test. Marx was more reserved about the idea of handing over further investigation of the abuse cases to state authorities. He considers further investigations necessary – but these investigations should be commissioned by the individual bishoprics.