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KNA InternationalAugust 26, 2020
People attend Mass in late June at a church in Bonn, Germany. (CNS photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA)People attend Mass in late June at a church in Bonn, Germany. (CNS photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA)

Bonn (KNA)—There have been abuse allegations against at least 654 members of Catholic religious orders in Germany in the past decades, according to a survey published in Bonn on Wednesday.

At least 1,412 children, adolescents or wards were the victims of sexual abuse, the results of the survey of 392 orders showed.

Of them, around 80 percent (1,131) were male and around 20 percent (281) female. The president of the German Conference of Catholic Superiors (DOK), Katharina Kluitmann, said there was an unquantifiable additional number of unreported cases. The Franciscan nun said the victims had suffered additional pain from the way they were treated by leaders and other members of orders. “We deeply regret this and acknowledge our failure once again,” she said.

The DOK sent a questionnaire to the heads of the orders in 2019 and received responses from around three quarters of them (291 of 392), covering 88 percent of the members of religious orders in Germany today.

A total of 100 orders said they had been confronted with accusations of various forms of abuse. While some orders reported more than 100 cases, most of the others said there had been fewer than 10.

Abuse accusations were recorded by 53 of 77 male religious orders and 47 of 214 female orders. A total of 80 percent of people accused of abuse have died. In addition to the 654 members of religious orders an additional 58 members of staff faced accusations.

Kluitmann said the survey was a further step in the investigation into abuse in religious orders. She did not claim that it amounted to scientific research and said the DOK lacked the financial and staff resources for that. As a result, the survey could not be compared to the abuse study conducted by the German Bishops’ Conference.

The 2018 Research Project on sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by catholic clergy in Germany was published in the autumn of 2018 and examined 38,156 files at the 27 German dioceses. It found information on 3,677 victims of sexual assaults and 1,670 accused clerics in the period between 1946 and 2014. The DOK gave no timeframe in its survey.

With regard to payments to victims in recognition of their suffering, the religious orders are seeking a uniform system with the Bishops’ Conference. However, they said they needed financial support. A concept adopted by the bishops in the spring provides for sums of between 5,000 and 50,000 euros per case.

Initial reactions to the DOK survey were mixed. The German government’s independent commissioner for sexual abuse issues, Johannes-Wilhelm Roerig, signalled his support for a “structured review process.”

He referred to the “Joint Declaration” made by the German Bishops’ Conference in June aimed at improving cooperation between church representatives, experts and government agencies in dealing with abuse.

The religious orders have so far been left out of this agreement. Now, however, the negotiations on binding structures, standards and criteria for comprehensive and independent investigations should begin quickly and incorporate the orders, said Roerig.

Victims’ association “Eckiger Tisch” (“Non-Round-Table”) criticised the survey, saying most religious orders had refused to accept responsibility for too long.

“And even now they think they have all the time in the world to first enter talks on whether and how they want to investigate their history of violence and sexual abuse,” said the association’s spokesman, Matthias Katsch.

He demanded that all the records of the religious orders should be secured and made available to state prosecutors if there was any suspicion of sexual child abuse. Under no circumstances should the victims be denied adequate compensation on the grounds of orders being impoverished, Katsch stressed.

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