Lutheran bishop resigns over alleged failures in dealing with child abuse


MARIA JEPSEN, the Lutheran bishop of Hamburg, has resigned after claims she failed to address child abuse allegations in her ranks.

In 1992 Dr Jepsen was the first woman worldwide to be ordained a Lutheran bishop but faced growing pressure over a minister accused of sexually abusing 50 to 60 children, dating back to the 1970s.

“My credibility has been called into question,” said Maria Jepsen (65) at a hastily arranged press conference. “Thus I don’t see myself in a position to continue preaching the good news, as promised to my congregation and to God, and as I have done since my ordination and appointment as bishop.” The allegations involve a Lutheran minister, identified only as Gert Dietrich K, against whom child sexual abuse allegations date back to 1973.

On hearing of these allegations, his superior moved him to a new posting in Ahrensburg, near Hamburg, where he married a local woman and, according to her five step-sons, abused them regularly throughout the 1980s.

A further complaint came from a young woman, in the same parish youth group as the step-sons. She said the minister pressurised her into sleeping with him on a regular basis between 1979 and 1984. Despite the complaints against him, the minister was confirmed in his office in 1990, a year after he divorced.

According to media reports, the bishop only began to investigate the case this year after the abused woman, now 46, contacted her directly in March.

Bishop Jepsen said she had not known about the case earlier, but the young woman signed an affidavit this week that she had informed the bishop through a local minister in 1999.

The accused minister was removed from his posting and then moved on to a juvenile prison in 2000 where, according to reports, he continued to abuse young men.

Yesterday, fellow Bishop Gerhard Ulrich said his colleague’s resignation “in no way can or should be viewed as personal guilt charge”.

However he admitted that “our structures didn’t deal appropriately with all information” and promised a full report into the case by the end of the month.

Her departure is the second high-profile resignation in Germany’s Lutheran Church following the resignation in February of Margot Käßmann.

The head of the church, home to 25 million Protestants, was charged with drunk driving and decided to stand down after the case became public.