German Catholic Church to pay abuse victims up to €50,000

German bishops agreed Thursday that victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are entitled to payouts of up to €50,000 each, a figure campaigners insisted was far too low.

German Catholic Church to pay abuse victims up to €50,000
German Bishops' Conference president Georg Bätzing. Photo: DPA

Speaking after the autumn assembly of the German Bishops' Conference, president Georg Bätzing said an independent committee would be set up to examine complaints and decide on payouts from January 1st, 2021. Victims' therapy costs will also be covered.

Some survivors would find the one-off sum of up to €50,000 “unsatisfactory”, Bishop Bätzing admitted. “But I see it as a genuine step forwards,” he told a press conference in the central city of Fulda.

The new system is based on proposals already approved by bishops at a gathering in March.

The Eckiger Tisch victims' group was quick to criticise the announcement,  calling for sums as high as €400,000 per survivor to take into account a lifetime of trauma and the “decades-long, systematic cover-up of crimes  against children and adolescents by the Church”.

The campaign group said it would launch a petition for German lawmakers to discuss the historic abuse scandal in parliament and acknowledge the need for “appropriate compensation”.

Germany rocked by Church abuse

Like other countries around the world, Germany has in recent years been rocked by revelations of sexual abuse by priests and other clergy.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

The real number of victims is estimated to be even higher.

READ ALSO: 'We will continue to fight': German church abuse victims say payouts not enough

The German Catholic Church has however rejected demands for six-figure payouts for survivors as too costly.

It has also refused to call the payouts compensation, referring to them instead as “payments in recognition of their suffering”.

Until now, the Church has paid survivors an average sum of up to €5,000 each.

Bätzing said the new sum of up to €50,000 was at “the higher end” of comparable payouts in German courts for abuse cases.

He also defended the Church's decision to stick with the system of  “recognition” payments.

German courts have “high standards” for awarding compensation, he said, with a burden of proof that could be hard to meet in cases where perpetrators may have died already, or where records no longer exist that could back up the allegations.

The seven-member independent committee that will be set up – consisting of experts in health, psychology, law and education – will set “a low threshold” for accepting cases, he said.

READ ALSO: German Catholic church apologises as scale of child abuse laid bare

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors