The World from Berlin: Abuse Investigation Needed ‘Without a Moment’s Delay’
The World from Berlin: Abuse Investigation Needed ‘Without a Moment’s Delay’
The child-abuse scandal that broke out in Germany in late January has now spread across the country. As shocked German politicians argue over whether to lift the statute of limitations or impose civil penalties, newspaper commentators are unanimous in their call for swift and concerted action.
At first, it seemed like an isolated incident of abuse at one Catholic school in Berlin. But now, in little over a month, it has ballooned into a massive scandal, with reports of molestations and beatings stretching back decades — in all types of private institutions and all over Germany. Shocked by the scope and terrible nature of the scandal, Germans are clamouring to find the appropriate response.
The series of scandals broke out in late January with initial reports about abuse at Canisius College, a university-prep high school run by Jesuit priests in central Berlin. Since then, it has spread to include other Catholic institutions around the country, including boarding schools, a cathedral choir in Regensburg and a Benedictine monastery school in Ettal, as well as private, secular boarding schools, such as the Oldenwaldschule, an elite private school in Hesse.
Heading the calls for a concerted investigation of the matter is German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). She has proposed the appointment of ombudsmen and a round table of representatives of the government, the Church and abuse victims. Such a panel, she says, would be “a good way to clear up the many abuse cases and give the Catholic Church an opportunity to enter into dialogue with the victims about voluntary compensation.” Leading conservatives have also called for the 20-year statute of limitations on cases of child abuse to be abolished, a move the justice minister opposes.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has been especially critical of what she calls a “wall of silence” from the Church. On Monday, she told the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk radio that the Church is hiding behind a 2001 Vatican directive that calls for cases of abuse to first be investigated internally.
But Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the Church’s spokeman for issues related to abuse, said that her comments were “absurd,” according to Reuters. “Our guidelines insist that we involve state prosecutors,” Ackermann told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. On the other hand, Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who is also chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, has accused Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger of bashing the Church and demanded that she apologize for her statements. Zollitsch will travel to the Vatican on Friday to discuss the widening scandal with Catholic Church officials.
In Tuesday’s papers, German commentators weigh the pros and cons of the ideas that have been put forward for dealing with the matter and wonder how this tragedy could have gone on so long undetected.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
“Among the few things that politicians can do when it comes to this terrifying, complex and hard to grasp issue is to make stricter laws. In this vein, members drawn from all parties have now suggested that the statute of limitations be abolished in cases of child abuse.”
“It actually would be sensible to allow this when it comes to civil lawsuits, which have had a 10-year limit — and a 20-year limit in severe cases — after the victim’s 18th birthday. Doing so would at least give victims a chance to bring their tormentors to justice in financial terms. In civil law, the fact that the evidence is so hard to gather after such a long period of time presents less of a problem because it is possible to draw comparisons, and they often favor the victims.”
“In criminal law, on the other hand, abolishing the statue of limitations is less useful than it might first appear to be. More than anything, it would be a symbolic act to put child abuse on par with murder, genocide and Nazi crimes. But what is already an extremely difficult case to prove would not be made any easier if we started dealing with cases that reach back 30 or 40 years. What’s more, doing so would not help the victims who are currently stepping forward because the statute of limitations cannot be lifted retroactively.”
“In order to help the victims, the political debate over statutes of limitations needs to go even farther. It needs to establish how schools and other establishments can create a climate in which children and youths can have the courage to break through the silence. The proposed round table announced by the federal government is a good step. It must aim to investigate things unsparingly and in a way that gives the victims their dignity back. Only then will it be possible for other victims to not keep their suffering to themselves for decades or their entire lives.”
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
“The Catholic practice was put to priests who had committed offenses on probation and post them in the next-best boarding school. That was an ineffective remedy. If you really want to protect children from pedophilic teachers, you need to find other security measures.”
“The Odenwaldschule did just that. When it was discovered that the well-respected educational reformer Gerold Becker raped a student 12 years ago, he was severely punished: He was kicked out, and the public prosecutor was asked to intervene. In 1999, on its own initiative, the school hosted a colloquium and set up a well-functioning ‘committee to guard against sexual violence,’ with seats on it for both teachers and students.”
“Still, that wasn’t enough. It has recently emerged that there were other cases of abuse at the Odenwaldschule, which also took place in the 1970s and 1980s. This shows that some victims need much more time than some can imagine before they are ready to come out with their story. Given these circumstances, all boarding and private schools should now take part in the investigation of such incidents — and without a moment’s delay. For some of the establishments, doing so will leave them with only one option: closing down. And if that isn’t possible, they’ll need to rebuild themselves from the ground up. That is surely the case for the monastery school in Ettal, and it might also be the case for the Odenwaldschule.
The conservative Die Welt writes:
“It’s hard to figure out how boarding-school teachers could abuse children for years without their parents getting suspicious that something was going on. Did the children have no or insufficient contact with their parents? Was their relationship of trust with their parents driven out of them, or was it lost because they were separated from them for such long periods of time? Or, the other way around, were the parents not interested in their children’s well-being? These are the questions that boarding schools and parents will have to answer. In essence, everything pivots on the issue of correct communication. If the abused children — who weren’t really all that young any more — had had the courage at that time to tell their parents about the horrible things they had experienced, they might have prevented much more from happening. One of the most insidious things about crimes committed by teachers is that, instead of making the students entrusted to them self-confident, they make them submissive. You aren’t going to see that advertised in any boarding-school prospectus.”
— Josh Ward
Posted on January 25, 2013, in Child Sex Abuse, Clergy Abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse, Pope Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI, Priest Child Sex Abuse, Religion, Roman Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse and tagged Bishop Stephan Ackermann, Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference Robert Zollitsch, child abuse, child molestation, child rape, child sex abuse, clergy abuse, crimes against children, Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, German Bishops' Conference, German Catholic Church, German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, pedophile, pedophile priests, pope, pope benedict, pope benedict XVI, priest rape, priest sex abuse, religion, roman catholic church, roman catholic church sex scandal, roman catholic clergy, roman catholics, The Vatican, vatican. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.