Statement of German Bishops After Papal Audience

“We Are Advancing in the Path of Healing the Wounds of the Past”

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the communiqué of the president of the German episcopal conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, after his audience with Benedict XVI today in the Vatican.
 
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As every year, after the spring Plenary Assembly of the German episcopal conference, I had a conversation today with Benedict XVI to inform him on the most important topics. For this reason, I informed the Holy Father on the cases, known in past weeks, of pedagogically violent treatment and sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church in Germany. The Holy Father received my report with great sadness and profound shock.

For me it was important to make clear that the bishops are profoundly shocked by the abuses that have been verified in ecclesial realms. In fact a few weeks ago I asked forgiveness from the victims, something that I repeat once again today in Rome. I have informed the Holy Father on the measures we have adopted. I thank him for encouraging me to continue in the implementation of this plan of measures with tenacity and courage.
 
We want to discover the truth and come to a legal clarification, without false interpretations, also when cases are presented to us that go back to the distant past. The victims have this right.
 
We follow the “Directives of the German Episcopal Conference on the procedure in cases of sexual abuses on minors perpetrated by ecclesiastics.” No country has these directives. They assure the victims and their families human, therapeutic and pastoral help, which is adapted individually. In each diocese there is a reference person to go to. At present we are studying how we can possibly improve the selection of these persons.
 
In addition, we are reinforcing prevention. We ask the parishes and, in particular, those in charge of our schools and of youth pastoral care to promote a culture of careful observation. I am delighted by the fact that the Minister of the Family and Culture has organized a great round table with the most relevant social groups, on April 23, 2010, in Berlin, to address the problem of sexual abuse, paying particular attention to possible measures of prevention. The episcopal conference, of course, will be present. In an interview with a newspaper two weeks ago I expressed my appreciation for this great round table.
 
A fourth point of the measures we have adopted affects our responsibility. For this reason, we have appointed the bishop of Treveris, monsignor Stephan Ackermann, as the special person in charge of the German Episcopal Conference for all the questions linked to sexual abuses. The Holy Father has also received this idea favorably.
 
Allow me to confirm something once again more clearly: We are not fleeing from our responsibilities and we cannot excuse any one for the cases that occurred. However, at this time, in Germany, we are learning about a notable number of abusive action in the pedagogical realm, and of cases of abuse that occurred in the past, which go far beyond the realm of the Catholic Church. This reinforces us, the bishops, in the will to seek a dialogue with the greatest possible number of agents of the social scene to clarify matters and be able to prevent such incidents.
 
Also forming part of this is the Church’s support to the State judicial authorities to prosecute sexual abuses against minors. We invite the priests and lay employees of our ecclesiastical institutions, as well as volunteers, to denounce themselves when there are significant facts. We will inform the judicial authorities. We will only not do so in extraordinary circumstances, for example, when it corresponds with the desire expressed by the victim. Given that the competencies that affect the State criminal process and the ecclesiastical process are constantly presented in a mistaken way, I wish to specify once more: in case of suspicion of sexual abuses there is a State criminal process and an ecclesiastical process. They affect different juridical realms, and are totally separate and independent of one another. Obviously the ecclesiastical process is not superior to that of the State. The result of the ecclesiastical process has no influence whatsoever on the State process, nor does it affect the support that the Church gives to the State judicial authorities.
 
I thank Pope Benedict XVI for his support expressed to the decisive action of the German Episcopal Conference. He encourages us to continue with consistency on the path undertaken to obtain complete and rapid clarity. In particular, he asks us to follow continually the guidelines adopted and, if necessary, to improve them. Pope Benedict XVI also appreciated expressly our plan of measures. I come out of today’s conversation reinforced and trust that we are advancing in the path of healing the wounds of the past.
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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