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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"The Church has covered up"- Bishop speaking for German Bishop's Conference

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Bishop Ackermann: The Church has covered up

Koblenz Lack of any idea of education in the past, guilty clerics, cover-up: With these clear words the person appointed by the Catholic Church to deal with the abuse scandal, Bishop of Trier Stephan Ackermann, places his own institution in court.

Every day we get new reports of sexual abuse or the abuse of power in religious institutions. What guilt has the Catholic Church brought upon herself?

First, it must be stated that the perpetrators are guilty. Simply to say at no great length that it is the system that is the problem would not do justice to the problem and excuse the perpetrators to an unpleasant degree. But of course those who bear responsibility and are in this sense guilty as superiors have brought guilt on themselves and have not dealt with the incidents and the abuse in the senses of education and future prevention.

Has the Catholic Church been guilty of cover-up?

From our findings, which we now have, there has been cover-up. We now have to take painful note. There where there was no real desire to explain and offenders were simply transferred, we must admit in a whole series of cases that there has been cover-up.

Are there dioceses who dealt too leniently with the perpetrators?

First, one must say that looking back over the past decades, indeed, all dioceses are somehow affected. I have learned in the discussions in recent days, that we too had one eye on protecting the perpetrators. And if you ask for clemency, this is again the perpetrators perspective. What can one say: Our considerations on the matter were false. A false regard for the reputation of the church, for certain institutions, for reputation.

Why is it that these abuses are now known after decades? Is this the responsibility of the entire system of the Church, in the power structures?

That these cases are now known, on one hand, is due to the fact that Father Mertes, the Rector of the Canisius College in Berlin, a courageous ecclesiastic came forward. Secondly, many victims due to the enormous publicity and from the resulting experience that they are not alone are now encouraged to speak, after decades, of their personal destiny.

What will the round table produce?

I am sure that at this round table, we can make the substance of the abuse problem in its full extent even more apparent and that there are other perspectives, primarily in the area of prevention. The various social institutions which are active in the field of children and youth, must work together more closely here.

Will there be new focal points, new aid for the victims?

I have already announced that we want to set up a hotline for those affected - victims, perpetrators maybe also -. This will be available from 30 March. In addition, there will be officials in the various dioceses and religious communities who will be the first contact when it comes to notify certain cases.

How qualified and how neutral will the staff be on the hotline?

It will be staffed with qualified men and women from our parishes - with psychologists and therapists who know how to deal with the issue of sexual abuse.

How much do you want outside expertise to understand the issue thoroughly?

We have used external expertise in drawing up the guidelines in 2002. In 2003, the Vatican invited people to a conference on sexual abuse. 95 percent of the participating experts are not Catholic. And if we revise our guidelines, once again, we will call on experts from outside. I have received as a representative of the Episcopal Conference has a number of offers from people who are willing to contribute their expertise to it.

Will the Church change the training of priests?

I will take any case with the trainers in seminaries contact, taking the elements in the training under the microscope and to improve this. But I would like to emphasize that the vast majority of cases, which are now known to be in the 60's, 70s or 80s happened years ago. At least since the 80s, psychology is a standard element in the training of priests.
There are criticisms of the Pope that he has not clearly expressed himself on the abuse cases.

Now, the Vatican have announced a pastoral letter to the Irish bishops on this topic. Is this level not too formal, to do justice to the discussion?

One does the Pope wrong, if you convey the impression that he would not be clear on this issue. If one looks at the events in America, which became known 2002, the current Pope was in charge as prefect of the Congregation of Faith and has driven a very significant price. This he does with the Irish bishops, too. That they are twice been to the Vatican, which shows how strongly the issue has become a top priority. Perhaps the Papal letter will analyse the abuse problem in a broader sense.

Will not the "German" Pope make a personal statement on the situation in Germany?

The Pope is above all, the pope of the universal Church. But the Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference was in the Vatican and the pope has spoken with him about the problem. And he has been publicised the reaction of the Pope and clearly points out that the Pope encouraged this path of investigation.

You argue that the victims are not seeking compensation but that they are pleased to finally be able to talk about their fate. Where do you get the assurance that it will not eventually just be a matter of compensation?

I got many responses giving the sense that the question of money is not in the foreground. But the question of compensation is of course under consideration. We need for the pastoral help of people funding for therapeutic services. We will continue to do so. And also you have to talk about whether there can be a form of tangible or intangible recognition for the victims. It is important to us that this recognition of the injustice which these people suffered is just and equitable. We do not want to be held ransom for certain amounts.

How do you see your very special role of – in secular terms - Chief Investigator?

This concept is not true. The investigation lies with the local representatives of the dioceses. My role is that of coordinator on the basic questions that all dioceses have to address: the revision of the guidelines, the discussions with the experts, contact with those who train priests, the establishment of the hotline.

And what do you see as your tasks this year?

This year, we will revise the guidelines and resolve the question of compensation. And I am optimistic that all cases which are reported to us will also be clarified. I do not pretend to predict what the Roundtable will produce during the year. There, the Catholic Church does not sit alone.

Do you think that the Catholic Church has gained its reputation back then?

We will try as best we can to win the trust again. One must note that we are serious about the investigations. But trust one can only seek as a goal when you trust yourself.

What connection do you see between the sexualization of our society and the abuse of children in all educational areas?

The discussions in recent weeks have shown that it does not lie in certain morality. In institutions with different orientations abuses have occurred. But the fact that many crimes have come to light so late, is due to the closed systems, whether in Catholic institutions, in non-religious boarding school or even in the family.

Does it depress you when the subjects of abuse and celibacy are discussed in the same breath?

Yes, it saddens me because there is no causal link. By the way, not only the bishops say that, but also non-religious experts. A sexual disorder originates in the past. It will not be triggered by a promise that is given by a grown man. And it saddens me because it questions the witness and the total life of the Catholic priest.

Do you welcome celibacy being discussed seriously in your church now?

If the discussions lead one to approach the subject of sexuality and sexual morality in a deeper way, then I welcome that. I see very well the problems that we have as Catholic Church is a demanding sexual morality, but we must recognize that the lives of married couples and celibates do not always proceed in the correct way. I would consider it important to be able to provide helpful answers.

How is the central pillar "of celibacy" for the equilibrium of the Catholic Church?
Celibacy is not a dogmatic statement of faith.

Put another way: would the system collapse without the celibacy of the Catholic Church?

Undoubtedly, the face of the church would drastically change. I am opposed to simply saying: "Let priests marry." If a priest does not marry, it would be very quickly surmised that something was wrong. Also, it is a fallacy that more people go to church just because the pastor may marry. In the context of the renewal of faith, this question would not produce anything. "
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