Spiegel online International
09 January 2013
By Barbara Hans
It was a major promise after a major disaster: In summer 2011, the Catholic Church in Germany pledged full transparency. One year earlier, an abuse scandal had shaken the country’s faithful, as an increasing number of cases surfaced in which priests had sexually abused children and then hidden behind a wall of silence.
The Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute (KFN) was given the job of investigating the cases in 2011. The personnel files from churches in all 27 dioceses were to be examined for cases of abuse in an attempt to win back some of the Church’s depleted credibility.
But now the Church has called off the study, citing a breakdown in trust. “The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” said the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, on Wednesday morning.
The director of the KFN, Christian Pfeiffer, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the Church had refused to cooperate. At the end of last year, he contacted the dioceses twice in writing. He reminded them of their promised transparency and cooperation. He also asked them whether there was any indication that in some dioceses files had been actively destroyed.
The Bishops’ Conference, the country’s official body of the Church, was apparently unable to agree on any form of cooperation with the KFN.
The controversy in recent months centered on privacy and data protection: various dioceses have refused to issue documents, allegedly fearing that the anonymity of those affected would not be maintained and that sensitive information could potentially be made public. In response, Pfeiffer asserted in April 2012 that the perpetrator files “never left the church space made available by the Vicar General.” A meeting with the indignant clergy around that time was unsuccessful.
Criticism for the Church
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has defended the KFN’s professional credibility and demanded that the issue be cleared up. “The accusation that censorship and the desire to maintain control hindered an independent examination must quickly be resolved by the Bishops’ Conference,” she told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, urging the Church to conduct a thorough investigation of the abuse scandal.
“It is a necessary and overdue step for the Catholic Church to open up its archives to specialists outside the Church for the first time,” she said. “The dramatic shock of 2010 must not be allowed to trickle off into a half-hearted inquiry.”
Before the inquiry was called off, the spokesman for the German Bishops’ Conference, Matthias Kopp, had insisted that the project should continue regardless of the outcome of the conflict: “Should cooperation with the KFN fall through, there would be a continuation of the project with another partner,” he said.
Pfeiffer insists that the church did not uphold their end of the agreement, which was signed by the research institute and the Association of German Dioceses (VDD). Debate broke out about whether individual dioceses were contractually bound by the agreement.
The structure of the study was unique in Europe: All 27 dioceses had wanted to grant the KFN access to their complete personnel files from the past ten years. In nine dioceses, the investigation was to have gone back as far as 1945.
The German Bishops’ Conference reached the agreement with the KFN on June 20, 2011. Under the supervision of a team of KFN researchers, church officials were to examine the files for indications of sexual assault. Retired prosecutors and judges would carry out much of the work to evaluate files that were found to be suspicious.
The German Bishops’ Conference hoped the examination would answer three questions: Under what circumstances was the abuse allowed to happen? How has the Church dealt with these actions? And what can be done to prevent future acts? The research project was scheduled to last three years and was also meant to examine how offender profiles have changed in recent years.
The project was of incalculable importance to the Catholic Church, because the loss of confidence after the abuse scandal was enormous. The cancellation of the inquiry throws into high relief Bishop Ackermann’s statement from 2011: “We also want the truth, which may still lie hidden in decades-old files, to be uncovered.”
Early on there was criticism of the project, though. The conservative Network of Catholic Priests pointed out that “even according to normal labor law, third parties are not entitled to claim personnel files.”
The model for the study was a survey in Munich, where an attorney went through personnel files — and identified nine more cases of abuse than had previously been discovered by the dioceses.
German bishops halt abuse inquiry
09 January 2013
Germany’s Roman Catholic bishops cancelled a study into sex abuse scandals within their church today, prompting the lead researcher to accuse them of trying to censor his findings.
Bishop Stephan Ackermann, spokesman on abuse issues for the German Bishops Conference, said the bishops had lost confidence in researcher Christian Pfeiffer and would look for another specialist to continue the study.
Mr Pfeiffer told German Radio the bishops, who had agreed with him in 2011 to open staff files for nine diocese dating back to 1945, had begun demanding changes in the project guidelines including a final veto over publishing its results.
“We regret that this project … cannot be continued and we will have to find a new partner,” Bishop Ackermann said in a statement.
He said they could no longer work with Mr Pfeiffer because of the way he dealt with the church hierarchy, but did not elaborate.
Catholic bishops in Ireland, United States, Belgium and the Netherlands have agreed to similar investigations into the files on priests accused of molesting children, sometimes with devastating results for the reputation of their church.
Irish clerical sex abuse inquiries have revealed widespread abuse and a pattern of secrecy to cover them up, which has resulted in three bishops being forced to resign as a result.
In Germany, some 180,000 Catholics left the church in protest in 2010, a 40 per cent jump over the previous year, after a wave of revelations about priests abusing young boys in boarding schools and other church institutions.
Catholic Church in Germany drops sex abuse inquiry
BBC News Europe
09 January 2012
The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has terminated an independent inquiry it commissioned into sexual abuse by clergy, citing a breakdown in trust.
It said that bishops’ trust in Prof Christian Pfeiffer, head of the Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute, had been “destroyed”.
Prof Pfeiffer accused the Church of obstructing his team’s work by seeking to control the investigation.
The Church said a new inquiry would be commissioned with a different partner.
Bishops approached the institute in 2011 after a wave of revelations about sexual abuse broke and tens of thousands of Catholics deserted the Church.
Hundreds of people had come forward to say they were abused as minors between the 1950s and 1980s, amid suspicion the crimes were concealed.
Pope Benedict XVI, the German-born head of the Catholic Church, met victims when he visited Germany in 2011, and abuse survivors have been offered financial compensation.
Prof Pfeiffer went public about his concerns, telling German media that Church officials had hampered his team’s research efforts by continually intervening.
Speaking to the German national broadcaster ZDF, he accused the Church of seeking to censor the research and trying to dictate the make-up of his team.
“We were meant to submit everything for approval,” the professor said.
His team consisted of retired prosecutors and judges and was allowed access to personnel records on Church employees going back more than a decade, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports.
The German Bishops’ Conference announced that it had ended its co-operation with Prof Pfeiffer’s institute.
“The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, said.
“Trust is vital for such an extensive project dealing with such a sensitive issue.”
About 34% of Germans are officially Roman Catholic, according to recent figures.
German Catholic bishops sack head of independent sex abuse study
09 January 2012
By Tom Heneghan
(Stephan Ackermann, Bishop of Trier attends a news conference on the launching of a telephone hotline for victims of sexual abuse, in south western German city of Trier March 30, 2010. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele.)
Germany’s Roman Catholic bishops sacked a criminologist studying sexual abuse of minors by their priests on Wednesday, prompting him to accuse them of trying to censor what was to be a major report on the scandals.
The independent study, examining church files sometimes dating back to 1945, was meant to shed light on undiscovered cases of abuse after about 600 people filed claims against molesting priests in 2010 following a wave of revelations there.
The German scandals were part of a series of abuse scandals that also shook the Catholic Church in Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands and forced Pope Benedict to issue a public apology.
Bishop Stephan Ackermann, spokesman on abuse issues for the German Bishops Conference, said the hierarchy had lost confidence in the researcher, criminologist Christian Pfeiffer, and would look for another specialist to take up the study.
“We regret that this project … cannot be continued and we will have to find a new partner,” Ackermann said in a statement that blamed Pfeiffer’s “communications behaviour with church officials” for the breakdown.
Pfeiffer told German Radio the bishops wanted to change previously agreed guidelines for the project to include a final veto over publishing its results, which he could not accept.
“Everything was settled reasonably and then suddenly came … an attempt to turn the whole contract towards censorship and stronger control by the church,” said Pfeiffer, head of the Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute.
Catholic Church in Germany calls off study on sexual abuse
DW (Deutche Welle)
09 January 2013
The Catholic Church in Germany has terminated an investigation into alleged cases of sexual abuse by clergy members. It is unclear whether the research will be continued by a different team.
The German Bishops’ Conference confirmed that it has ended cooperation with the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN) which had been investigating sexual abuse cases committed by employees of the Catholic Church, citing the lack of trust.
“The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, explained on Wednesday morning, saying that constructive cooperation had become impossible.
“Trust is vital for such an extensive project dealing with such a sensitive issue.”
In an interview with public broadcaster “Deutschlandfunk,” Christian Pfeiffer, the head of the KFN institute accused Church officials of hampering his team’s research efforts by continually attempting to intervene in and control the investigation. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper he spoke of censorship.
In 2011, the German Bishops’ Conference had authorized the KFN to launch an investigation into sexual abuse cases. This followed reports of abuse at several Catholic schools across Germany, claiming that children had repeatedly been abused.
The team of experts around Christian Pfeiffer consisted of retired prosecutors and judges and was allowed access to personnel records on Church employees going back more than a decade.
The investigation was to determine how such abuses came about, how the Church had dealt with them in the past, and what conclusions could be drawn to prevent new cases.
This followed a spate of allegations in 2010 of abuse of children by priests and other Church employees and the subsequent criticism of the Church’s slow response.
The Catholic Church officially apologized to the victims in March of 2010, and offered victims 5,000 euros ($6,546) each in compensation. During a visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI – who was the Cardinal of Munich from 1977 to 1982 – met with victims of abuse as a step towards reconciliation.
rg/kms (KNA, dpa, EPD)
Catholic Church abuse hotline goes cold
DW (Deutche Welle)
01 January 2013
The Catholic Church in Germany has closed its hotline for victims of sexual abuse due to lack of use. Critics say the church is not doing enough to counter this ongoing problem.
For two and a half years, the counseling service run by the Catholic Church was set up as a first point of contact for victims of abuse and their relatives.
Today, few people call the number, Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German Bishops’ Conference, told Deutsche Welle. He said the telephone helpline had fulfilled its purpose and would be turned off at the end of 2012.
Incidents of abuse
Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig: An ‘important first step’ against abuse is being taken away
Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig doesn’t approve of this decision. He is the independent special representative for sexual abuse of minors, appointed by the German government. Telephone helplines are “important for the first step towards finding help,” he said in an interview with German public television.
The toll-free number was set up in 2010, following an abuse scandal at a Catholic church in Berlin. As the extent of the case came to light, it became clear that other boys and girls had also been sexually abused at other locations in Germany.
The church’s hotline was the first nationwide contact point for victims of sexual abuse. Several thousand people called the number, which was operated by the Trier diocese.
The hotline was shut down due to a lack of demand, Kopp said. Hardly any more calls came in after spring 2012, Kopp said, “which is why we announced in April that the hotline would expire at the end of 2012.”
Lack of counseling services
The abuse first came to light at Berlin’s Canisius-Kolleg
Kopp responded to Rörig’s criticism by pointing out that it was the church and not the government that had set up the hotline.
Michael Ermisch, head of the German government initiative for those affected by sexual violence and abuse, criticized the Catholic Church for offering the counseling, but not allowing external monitoring.
Ermisch, who himself is a survivor of abuse, said that he generally finds such hotlines useful as a first point of assistance.
The problem with state offerings, Ermisch said, is that they are obligated to immediately involve state agencies. Those affected are often not in a position to be questioned in the context of a criminal investigation, he said – “and they also don’t want this, because they are afraid of the abusers hurting them further,” Ermisch added.
Ermisch said the government doesn’t offer enough support for victims of sexual abuse. “There’s the government hotline, but that’s it,” he said. He said quick, simple help should be targeted toward young people in particular. He said the government should finance stability and couple therapy for those abused and, if necessary, their partners.
Set of measures
Matthias Kopp: Other channels still available
Since 2010, the Catholic Church has been addressing the issue of sexual abuse with a set of measures including prevention, financial compensation for victims and an invitation to speak.
Kopp said that there’s a prevention and abuse officer available in each of Germany’s 27 Catholic dioceses. “One can easily find their phone number and email address on the Internet,” he said.
This type of long-term support is more effective than a hotline, Kopp said. A hotline that won’t be ringing any more.
Indeed the cancellation does throw into relief Bishop Ackerman’s 2011 statement about wanting the truth to be uncovered. It also raises questions for me regarding the veracity of that bizarre report made public by the bishop in December past in which he claimed studies showed that only 5% of German clerical molesters could be classified as ephebophiles.
Finally, one can only wonder if shutting down the sex abuse hotline end December was in any way shape or form influenced by the decision to halt the inquiry. My gut is that it was, but I do realize that if no one was calling the hotline it may well have served its purpose? On the other hand, I can not help but wonder if perchance this bad news will not prompt other victims to speak out? and of course the hotline is now kaput!
I do believe the government should and must intervene in this sorry mess. The bishops should have no say whatever in the final report of any inquiry, nor should they have a say in what files should or should not be released. They have proven themselves incapable of doing the right thing to seek and reveal the truth. A court order may be the order of the day?
As for the hotline, perhaps it is high time someone other than the bishops set up and manage such a hotline?
“Everything was settled reasonably and then suddenly came … an attempt to turn the whole contract towards censorship and stronger control by the church,” ….Surprise surprise!! Once again that church and it’s collars are showing their true colours. They have taken their eyes and hearts from looking at God and are fixated on their own a$$e$ and the almighty dollar, the only things they cherish.