Germany’s Catholic Church addresses child sex abuse scandal amid protests

Germany's under-fire Catholic Church admitted Thursday it must urgently confront its child sex abuse scandal, but victims accused it of continued "stonewalling", especially on compensation.

Germany's Catholic Church addresses child sex abuse scandal amid protests
Cardinal Reinhard Marx walks past demonstrators at the conference in Lingen on Monday. Photo: DPA

As in Australia, Chile, France, Ireland and the United States, Germany's Catholic Church has had to admit to abuses by predator priests and clergy and their systematic cover-up over decades.

SEE ALSO: German Catholic Church apologizes as scale of child abuse laid bare

“We carry responsibility toward those affected around the world — no-one among us can still negate the problem or treat it as a taboo,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German Bishops' Conference.

To the thousands of German victims and to other critics, Marx said, “we see and hear you … we have understood”, speaking at the end of a four-day episcopal conference in the western city of Lingen.

The era of silence “is over”, he stressed weeks after a Vatican conference also addressed the issue, and he admitted that it should have been dealt with “perhaps 20 years, 30 years ago”.

But Cardinal Marx also cautioned that “the process of cleansing is not finished in three days, it's a continuing path”, and offered no timetable for concrete reforms.

Matthias Katsch of the main victims group Eckiger Tisch welcomed the general sentiment of more openness but stressed that “what we're missing is clear words on the issue of helping, in particular on the compensation of victims”.

“The Church keeps stonewalling on compensation,” he said in a statement, adding that “the truth is that the bishops are scared — rightly — that very, very many people will insist on compensation”.

SEE ALSO: Homosexuality at fault for child abuse, not Catholic Church, says German cardinal

Victims not invited

The Catholic Church — Germany's biggest religious community with 23 million followers — has apologized and pledged a series of steps, from owning up to past crimes to compensating victims and preventing abuses in future.

German bishops have also debated possible changes to Catholic dogma and traditions, including the training of priests to the role of women.

The bishop charged with addressing the child abuse crisis, Stephan Ackermann, said the Church was seeking to find an “unbureaucratic” way to compensate victims and to build prevention and monitoring systems.

The Church had so far received 1,900 applications for “benefits in acknowledgement of suffering”, he said Wednesday.

The main victims group, Eckiger Tisch, has urged the Church to bring in independent experts for a more thorough audit, to involve victims in the effort and to take speedy steps to compensate those who have suffered.

“We would gladly have presented our demands to the bishops directly and in person, but we were not invited,” said its head, Matthias Katsch.

SEE ALSO: 'Celibacy is not a dogma': German Catholic Church to examine practices

'Turn the lights on'

Some 300 protesters Monday rallied outside the conference, chanting “turn the lights on” and symbolically illuminating the church facade with hand-held torches.

The rally, organized by the Catholic Women's Community of Germany, handed over a petition with 30,000 signatures calling for far-reaching reforms, including giving women a greater role in the Church.

Germany's biggest abuse clusters have included a Berlin elite Jesuit school and the world-famous Catholic choir school the Regensburger Domspatzen where more than 500 boys suffered sexual or physical abuse.

Overall, most victims were boys and more than half were 13 years old or younger, the study last year concluded.

Predator priests were often transferred to another parish, which was usually not warned about their criminal history.

Only about one in three were subject to disciplinary hearings by the Church, and most got away with minimal punishment.

Only 38 percent were prosecuted by civil courts.

By Frank Zeller

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Pope rejects German bishop’s offer to quit over abuse scandal

Pope Francis on Thursday rejected an offer by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a top German bishop, to resign over the mishandling of sexual abuse and cover-up scandals.

Pope rejects German bishop's offer to quit over abuse scandal
Marx following a service in Haar, Bavaria on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

“Continue as you propose (in your pastoral work) but as Archbishop of
Munich and Freising,” the pope wrote to Marx, referring to the position he was offering to vacate.

Marx announced earlier this month that he had offered the pope his
resignation over the church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in handling
child sex abuse scandals.

READ ALSO: German bishop resigns over Catholic Church’s ‘failure’ in abuse scandal

The stunning decision came after the church in Germany, like in many places elsewhere, was shaken by allegations of wide-ranging abuse by clergymen against minors.

In his letter, the pope agreed with Marx in calling the clerical sexual
abuse scandals “a catastrophe” and the way the Catholic Church dealt with them “until recently”.

“The entire Church is in crisis because of the abuse issue” and “the Church
cannot proceed without tackling this crisis. The policy of burying the head in
the sand leads nowhere,” he wrote.

In his original letter to the pope dated May 21st and published on June 4th by his archdiocese, Marx said: “It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”

Investigations and reports had “consistently shown there have been many
personal failures and administrative mistakes but also institutional or
‘systemic’ failure,” added Marx, who was president of the German Bishops’
Conference from 2012 to 2020.

Slamming colleagues who “refuse to believe there is a shared responsibility
in this respect”, he said the Church was at “a dead end”.

Marx — who was never personally accused of abuse or cover up, and who
would have remained a cardinal even if Francis had allowed him to quit as
archbishop — added that he hoped his resignation would offer a new beginning for the Church.

Speaking to journalists, he confirmed the pope had given him permission to
publish the letter and that he would continue in his role until he received a
response to his offer.