23 June 2023, The Tablet

Record payout ordered for abuse victim

GERMANY / Cologne case signals new standard that thousands of others will have to follow.

Record payout ordered for abuse victim

Secretary of Germany’s bishops’ conference Dr Beate Gilles.

The Cologne district court has ordered the Archdiocese of Cologne to pay an abuse victim €300,000 (£257,000) in personal injury compensation for years of abuse by his parish priest.

This is the largest compensation payment for clerical sexual abuse ever awarded in Germany. The plaintiff, 64-year-old Georg Menne, was repeatedly raped over many years by his parish priest Fr Erich Jansen when he was an altar boy in the 1970s.

Cardinal Joseph Höffner, Archbishop of Cologne from 1969 to 1987, knew of Jansen’s offences, but he was moved from parish to parish until he retired. Jansen died in 2020. Although Menne’s case was beyond the statute of limitations, the archdiocese waived the statute bar.

“Sexual abuse is a crime whose consequences often accompany and impair the victims for the whole of their lives. The Cologne archdiocese therefore accepts institutional co-responsibility for the injustice and pain suffered in this case,” it said in a statement.

Until now, the German Catholic Church has rarely paid victims more than €50,000 in compensation for clerical sexual abuse, making voluntary payments through the Independent Commission for Recognised Compensation in Bonn. On 13 June, the German bishops’ conference announced that it wanted to continue with this system.

“This system enables victims to receive compensation payments simply and without going to court,” conference secretary Dr Beate Gilles explained. Unlike in a court procedure, victims did not have to produce any evidence. “Their case just has to be plausible,” she said. Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the Square Table Victims’ Association, said:

“The Menne case is an important signal for thousands of similar cases in Germany. The Church is liable for the crimes its priests, bishops and religious superiors have committed.”

He said the court decision showed that the German Church had tried to placate victims with “symbolic payments – in the knowledge that the passing of time worked in the Church’s favour and against the victims”. The Menne case was a “caesura in German legal history”, the canon lawyer Thomas Schu¨ller told the German Press Agency. “In future, other courts will take this case as an example.”

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