20 December 2019, The Tablet

German Catholic bishops tighten up abuse guidelines

A sex abuse case in the German Catholic Church will also no longer be called a 'despicable act' but a 'crime'.

German Catholic bishops tighten up abuse guidelines

Bishop Stephan Ackermann
Arne Dedert/DPA/PA Images

The German bishops have tightened up their sexual abuse guidelines, making them binding on all dioceses for the first time.

The German bishops' conference has announced the new guidelines will become law from 1 January next year and apply to the sexual abuse of minors and adults with special needs, such as people with disabilities, in the Church.

They will be published in each diocese’s official gazette. This is the first revision since 2013 and they will be reassessed again in five years’ time.

The view of those who have been sexually abused has been particularly taken into account. Thus their participation at trials dealing with sexual abuse and that of external, independent experts on abuse is anticipated. Moreover, the new guidelines no longer speak of “victims” but of “those affected” whose wish it also was that the word “presumed” should no longer be used. An abuse case will also no longer be called a “despicable act” but a “crime”.

The purpose of these additional measures is to make it clear that people who want to report an abuse will meet with a helpful ear and not encounter mistrust.

Moreover, the Church’s responsibility will be expanded. It will also accept the responsibility for voluntary helpers and trainees as possible perpetrators.

Unlike in state law, the new Church legislation will investigate cases where the abuse perpetrator is no longer alive. “Even if the accused is no longer alive, the church authorities must reappraise the case,” says the text.

The guidelines distinguish between three different forms of abuse prevention: measures to prevent abuse happening comes under “primary prevention”; recognising and stopping abuse comes under “secondary prevention” and appraisal of what happened after the fact comes under “tertiary prevention”. 

Under the new guidelines, the New Spiritual Communities, Church Movements and initiatives are now more strictly obliged to undertake prevention measures.

When he presented the new guidelines, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, who is responsible for addressing abuse issues in the German bishops’ conference, said the 2013 guidelines had been reappraised and the new guidelines “reflect the experiences and findings which we have won in recent years. They have led to an expansion of the rules as also to greater obligation to fulfil them. [They] will lead to a more consequent appraisal of sexualised abuse cases and a more effective protection of minors and adults who put their trust in the Church.” 



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