A scandal that first emerged into the public light in 2010 will soon see some good news for hundreds of victims, as the Regensburg diocese announced on Wednesday it would be offering them each between €5,000 and €20,000 in compensation.
“This is a sign that we take this very seriously,” Regensburg bishop Rudolf Voderholzer said at a joint press conference with victims groups, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“You should believe that this causes me pain, that every single case hurts my soul… I cannot undo what was done, and can only ask those affected for forgiveness.”
As of this month, 422 former singers in the cathedral’s boys’ choir have come forward to report abuse to an investigative team, which began examining the reports last year in cooperation with the diocese.
The church and victims' groups also plan to set up an independent counseling centre for those affected. This was something the victim advocacy groups had strongly requested, so that those who were abused would not have to turn to someone from the Catholic church, or someone related to it, for help.
The victims were members of the “Cathedral Sparrows” choir between 1945 and the 1990s, and report that priests and teachers physically abused them. At least 65 have reported sexual abuse.
But experts estimate that the total number of victims could be much higher, with the leading lawyer on the investigation stating in January that one-third of the 2,100 students between the 1950s and early 1990s were likely subject to violence – or about 700 people.
The scandal in the Regensburg church started to unravel in 2010, when nationwide reports of abuse by priests were sparked by a case in Berlin.
A school there announced that around 50 former students had reported they were sexually abused by priests. Afterwards, lawyers for victims came forward with allegations of abuse at dozens of other Catholic institutions.
The two men first implicated in the abuse in Regensburg both died in 1984. One suspect, who was a religion teacher and the institution’s assistant leader, was removed from service in 1958. The other man was reportedly censured in 1971.
The diocese of Regensburg announced last April that it would cooperate with victims' organisation White Ring to investigate sexual and physical abuse at the Domspatzen choir. At the start of the year, the church said it would pay victims €2,500 each in compensation.
The new compensation scheme announced on Wednesday was the result of intense negotiations between church representatives and victims’ groups.
“We came in with a list of demands, which we knew were very high. But as of today, this list has been fulfilled,” said 56-year-old Alexander Probst, who is one of the victims.
“We have dreamed of this for years.”