Bishops vow to report abuse to authorities


GERMAN CATHOLIC bishops have vowed to report to state prosecutors all suspected cases of clerical child abuse.

Guidelines presented yesterday are the answer of the Catholic Church in Germany to a wave of abuse cases that came to light earlier this year. “The terrible events and experiences of the past months showed us that the guidelines from 2002 were not precise enough,” said Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, a special abuse commissioner of the church.

“Thus, we put the guidelines under critical scrutiny and tightened them up further.”

Under the 2002 regulations, the onus was on bishops to conduct their own internal investigation. Only in “proven” cases of abuse were suspects “encouraged” to present themselves to the authorities. Bishops could “if necessary” contact the police – but there was no obligation. Now, church authorities are obliged to contact the police, except where the victim requests that no action be taken.

This would only happen, Bishop Ackermann said, if there was no chance of the perpetrator having other victims, and it was legally permissible to do so.

This point was queried by Germany’s federal justice minister, who has clashed repeatedly with the church over reporting of abuse. “German law has no provision for the permission of the victim being required to pursue a perpetrator of child abuse,” said Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

Germany’s clerical abuse scandal came to light in January with revelations of decades of abuse at a leading Berlin school run by the Jesuit order. Other scandals soon emerged involving the Benedictines, other religious orders and regular priests.

Reflecting the independence of religious orders within the church, the new guidelines do not oblige order heads to report child abuse allegations. Instead, heads of orders are “urgently advised” to contact the diocesan bishop.

The guidelines define child abuse in line with German legal provisions and provide clearer procedures for setting up investigative committees.

All meetings between bishops and alleged victims are to be logged, and the superiors of a priest or church employee with a record of child abuse are to be informed of this every time they are moved. All church employees in contact with children will be required to present good-conduct certificates to police.

Abuse campaigners criticised the guidelines for not addressing the issue of compensation.