Nearly 2,700 people call German Catholic Church’s sexual abuse hot line in its first 3 days

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Nola 38       WNOL-TV New Orleans, Louisiana

JUERGEN BAETZ Associated Press Writer

1:36 PM CDT, April 6, 2010

BERLIN (AP) — Nearly 2,700 people have called the church’s sexual abuse hot line in Germany in the first three days it was operating, a Catholic church spokesman said Tuesday.

A team of psychologists and other experts had conversations with 394 people so far, ranging from several minutes up to an hour, Trier Diocese spokesman Stephan Kronenburg said.

“Most callers report cases of sexual abuse,” he told The Associated Press.

The hot line — which began operating March 30 — received around 13,300 calls total in its first three days. Kronenburg said this worked out to about 2,670 people, as many called several times.

In addition, around 100 people used an online form to contact the service.

Most of the callers are people who say they were victims of sexual abuse or their relatives, with some callers also reporting cases of physical abuse, he said.

“The boundaries between both are often loose,” Kronenburg added.

The Catholic Church in Pope Benedict XVI’s homeland has been rocked by a widening scandal of physical and sexual abuse in recent weeks, with hundreds of people who say they were victims coming forward.

The church decided to set up a national hot line as pressure mounted and many victims seemed reluctant to report abuse cases to the diocese where they had been abused.

Most cases date back years, if not decades, and the statute of limitations may have passed, Kronenburg said.

“The hot line shall give the victims an opportunity to talk about what has happened to them. From there, we decide what to counsel them,” Kronenburg told the AP.

Should the hot line experts learn of an alleged child abuse case involving a priest currently on duty, they would alert the diocese and also prosecutors, Kronenburg said.

In the past, the Catholic Church was accused of covering up abuse cases. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger for instance spoke of a “wall of silence” surrounding the church.

During the Easter holidays, however, several prominent bishops — among them the dean of the bishops’ conference, Robert Zollitsch — called for a “renewal” of the church and condemned the abuses cases as “heinous crimes.”

In Munich, meanwhile, an independent lawyer hired by the church wrapped up his investigation of abuse allegations at the southern Ettal monastery.

“The investigation clearly shows a system of abuse that lasted for decades,” Thomas Pfister told the AP.

There are some cases of sexual abuse, but most of the victims who came forward were physically abused, Pfister said in a telephone interview. Most cases happened before 1990, he added.

The lawyer declined to cite exact figures or release more details on the reported cases as his final report is due to be published next week.


Hotline overwhelmed by abuse complaints

April 06 2010 at 05:20PM

Trier Germany – A new Catholic Church hotline in Germany has been overwhelmed by complaints about sex and violence, with fewer than one in five callers able to reach a counsellor, an official said on Tuesday.The hotline, set up by Germany’s 27 bishops, logged 13,293 dial- ins during its first three days, said Stephan Kronenburg, spokesman for the bishop of Trier who has been appointed to investigate the scandal.

“It was far more than we were expecting,” Kronenburg noted.

Software showed the calls came from 2,670 unique telephones. Counsellors reviewed 394 cases and gave advice to 91 other callers in the initial period of March 29 to April 1. Most callers reported they were abused in the 1960s and 1970s.

Kronenburg said counsellors found many callers were upset about brutal corporal punishment in church schools and institutions, but some of it shaded into abuse with sexual overtones.

“If a boy was caned on the naked buttocks, it could be interpreted as sexual abuse as well,” he said.

Kronenburg said callers who could not get through were invited to leave a message so they could be called back later.

The Trier diocese, located near the French border, has trained staff from its Samaritan hotline to log the cases for investigation.

Kronenburg said the rush of calls was “a sign of the scale of this problem.” He said the diocese would see in two or three weeks if the call volume remains constant and if it needs to employ more counsellors. – Sapa-dpa

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