BY STAFF REPORTER
THE GERMAN Catholic Church will require all employees who work with young people to obtain police checks and undergo psychiatric tests when necessary, under new guidelines published last week.
“The new guidelines now extend to clerics, order members and other employees in the Church’s service,” said Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, the bishops’ representative for sex abuse issues. “They depend on people actively serving the Church to follow the necessary procedures and offer help whenever possible.” Bishop Ackermann said the key point in the guidelines, which took effect from September 1, concerned the Church’s duty to notify state law enforcement bodies of all abuse accusations. He said the new text went further in preventing coverups, as well as in encouraging victims to report abuse and enhancing child protection.
“It was important for us to ensure the best support for prosecutors, while at the same time meeting requirements for protecting victims,” he said at a news conference in Trier.
“The terrible facts and experiences of recent months have shown our previous guidelines from 2002 were not precise enough in all points. This is why we have taken another critical look at them and tightened them up,” he added.
The document was prepared by a seven-member team appointed in February.
The 55-point text was shown to experts and victim groups, as well as members of a national round table on sex abuse convened in Berlin in April by Germany’s Justice, Education and Family Affairs ministries. It was approved on August 23 by the bishops’ permanent council.
The guidelines require dioceses to appoint independent ombudsmen, not linked to the diocesan authorities, to represent the rights of victims and to set up a permanent team of legal and psychotherapeutic experts to advise on abuse cases.
Clergy and laypeople working with children and young people in Church institutions will require police statements certifying no previous abuse convictions, while those suspected of abnormal sexual tendencies will have to undergo psychological tests.
Clergy and lay Church staffers incriminated in molestation will be barred from further work with children and checked by psychiatrists to ascertain where they may safely be employed.
Financial compensation for victims is not specified in the guidelines and will be determined during forthcoming talks with the government. The German bishops rejected the model pioneered in Austria which awards victims of clerical abuse sums between £4,000 and £20,000.
Bishop Ackermann added that the bishops’ conference would discuss procedures for applying the guidelines in all 34 Catholic dioceses at its autumn plenary. The subject of sexual abuse will likely continue to be on the agenda of the German bishops, who are due to discuss it at the end of September. An entire day of reflection will be dedicated to working through the events of the last few months while the bishops will also focus on developing a preventative strategy against the abuse of children.
“In the past months, I have received more than 500 letters, directly or via my Bonn office, from disappointed victims recounting traumatic experiences at the hands of the Catholic Church, as well as from experts offering us help and advice,” said the bishop. “It is all the more important now to thank the victims honestly, once again, for taking the courageous steps of bringing these appalling events to light, and thus helping expose and fight the crime of sexual abuse more effectively.” Since January, when claims of abuse were made against staff at a Jesuit-run college in Berlin, many German dioceses and religious orders have faced accusations of abuse by Catholic priests.
In February, the bishops’ conference opened a hotline offering advice, therapy and contacts for victims. In May, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg after claims he beat children at a Church-run orphanage before he was a bishop.
In June, a German prosecutor said he was investigating accusations against the president of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Frieburg. The accuser said the prelate had been an accessory to the abuse of children in the 1960s and had allowed an abusive priest to return to his diocese in 1987. The archdiocese rejected the allegations, accusing the media of sensationalism.