FULDA, Germany, SEPT. 29, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The German Catholic bishops’ conference has unanimously adopted directives on the problem of sexual abuse involving priests.
The directives, described as “a common procedure for all dioceses,” reflect the bishops’ conviction that they will make possible “greater objectivity and transparency in each particular case.” The country’s 68 bishops believe that the directives will help to “regain confidence and credibility.”
Approval of the directives came at the autumn plenary assembly of the bishops’ conference, which ended here Thursday.
“Every case is a scandal,” Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the conference, emphasized during a press conference Friday. He added, however, that the problem in Germany has not been as widespread as in the United States.
According to sources with the bishops’ conference, over the past 30 years in Germany there have been 47 accusations of pedophilia involving priests. There are about 19,000 priests in Germany.
“Because of a lack of knowledge on matters of sexual abuse of minors, very often the reaction has been inappropriate,” the bishops admit in their document. Addressing the victims, they said: “We are extremely sorry.”
The document continues: “It is often very difficult to intervene in the case of pedophile priests, because many of them deny the fact. Moreover, very often they don’t even feel guilty. Pedophilia is an illness, but it can be controlled.”
According to the 16 directives, a priest may be suspended from the exercise of his priestly ministry, if doubts are confirmed. As a general rule, those who are culpable must be asked to turn themselves in. “In particularly serious cases,” Cardinal Lehmann said, the Church itself might have to make the accusation.
In the future, every diocese will have a person who will immediately study accusations against clerics. The person will be appointed by the bishop. The bishops also announced that they will pay more attention to the human and emotional formation of seminarians.