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Communiqué issued by the German Bishops' Conference

Searching for the truth without false interpretations


The German Bishops' Conference has posted on its website a communiqué issued by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg im Breisgau, President of the Conference, after his Audience with the Holy Father on 12 March. The following is a translation of the German text.

Today, as happens every year after the spring Plenary Assembly of the German Bishops' Conference, I had a conversation with Pope Benedict xvi to inform him of the most important matters. Thus I informed the Holy Father of the cases that became public last week of the violent treatment of children and the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church in Germany. With deep sorrow and profound emotion, the Holy Father took note of my report. It was important to me to make clear that the German Bishops are deeply distressed that cases of abuse could come about in the ecclesiastical context. Only a few weeks ago, I apologized to the victims, something that I repeat once again in Rome today. I informed the Holy Father of the provisions we have adopted. I am grateful to him for having encouraged me to put into practice the measures planned with tenacity and courage.

We wish to discover the truth and to reach a loyal explanation, without any false interpretations, even when we are presented with cases that date back to long ago. The victims have a right to it. We are following the "Directives of the German Bishops' Conference on the procedure in cases of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clerics" No other country has these directives. They guarantee both the victims and their parents human, therapeutic and pastoral aid to suit each individual case. There is an authorized person who may be addressed on this matter in every diocese. We are currently examining how to improve the selection of these people.

Furthermore, we are strengthening prevention. We ask parishes and, in particular, those in charge of our schools and who work with youth to promote a culture of attentive observation. I am pleased that the Ministers for the Family and for Culture have organized a large round table with the most relevant social groups, scheduled to be held on 23 April 1010 in Berlin, which will address the problem of sex abuse and, not least, also with a view to possible preventive measures. The Bishops' Conference will of course be taking part it. Two weeks ago, in an interview with a newspaper, I expressed my appreciation of this large-scale round table.

A fourth point in the measures we have adopted concerns our share of responsibility. Therefore we have appointed Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier as the person especially appointed by the German Bishops' Conference to be in charge of all matters linked to sex abuse. The Holy Father also welcomed this decision.

May I say clearly once again: we are not shirking our responsibilities and we cannot excuse anyone in the cases that have occurred. Nevertheless, in Germany today a considerable number of abusive actions in the pedagogical sphere are coming to light that go far beyond the context of the Catholic Church. As Bishops, this reinforces our intention to seek for clarification and prevention through dialogue with the greatest possible number of representatives of the social scene.

It also includes the Church's support of the State judicial authorities in persecuting the sex abuse of minors. We ask the priests and lay people involved in our ecclesiastical structures, as well as the volunteers, to report themselves whenever there may be relevant facts. We will inform the judicial authorities. We will only refrain from so doing in extraordinary circumstances, for example, should this correspond with the express wishes of the victim. Since the competencies concerning the state penal procedure and the ecclesiastical procedure continue to be erroneously portrayed, I would like to explain once again: in cases when sex abuse is suspected, there are State and Church penal procedures. They concern different juridical spheres and are completely separate from and independent of each other. The ecclesiastical procedure is obviously not superior to that of the State. The outcome of the ecclesiastical procedure has no influence on the State procedure nor on the Church's support of the judicial authorities of the State.

I am grateful to Pope Benedict xvi for his express support of the decisive action of the German Bishops' Conference. He encourages us to continue consistently on the path on which we have set out for a complete and rapid clarification. In particular, he asks us constantly to follow the guidelines adopted and, wherever necessary, to improve them. Pope Benedict xvi also expressed his appreciation of our proposed measures. I have come away from today's conversation feeling strengthened, and I am confident that we are on the right path to healing the injuries of the past.