German Catholic Church’s Sex Abuse Guide

You can’t knock progress… right? Well, the German Catholic Church has made some this week and you can be the judge. Yesterday, the Church adopted stricter guidelines for leaders to follow when reporting and handling cases of clergy sex abuse.

Since 2002, church leaders in Germany have been required to report “established” cases of child sex abuse to law enforcement, unless the victim has other wishes. You can imagine the wiggle room this allowed: not only could church leaders loosely define what constitutes an “established case” in order to suit themselves and their reputations, they could also go to work on victims and persuade them of what an ugly process would ensue if the abuse was reported.

We’ve seen that before, and it happens all the time. Our lawyers specialize in child sex abuse and they’re quite familiar with each and every angle church leaders will play. Oh how they like to play the hush hush angle. Silence serves the Church. Seems to outrageous to believe? Consider this recent case in Belgium: a victim of sex abuse recorded his conversation with Cardinal Godfried Daneels, in which Daneels said, “It would be better that you wait… I don’t know whether it would be to your advantage to make a lot of noise about it. Neither for you, nor for him.” By the way, that last bit is incredible, isn’t it? As if the victim is sitting there burdened with concern for how this may affect the man who raped him!

So, where does the German Catholic Church stand today? On semantics and a nice public relations gesture. Again, it’s hard to fault progress… but this crisis is far too deep and significant for this sort of gesture to be applauded, or even tolerated. Effective yesterday, church leaders in Germany are required to report any plausible allegation to prosecutors, unless victims request (or are persuaded to take) different action. In such cases, church leaders are still charged to weigh the victims request for silence against the potential interests of other victims.

Nice, but too much wiggle room. What’s with the half measures? What are people afraid of?

In the U.S., all church personnel have a legal and moral obligation to report. Child sex abuse is a crime – a very serious crime. There is no discussion, no weighing of anything. Emotions and reputations are of secondary concern. Even if the victims want to remain silent, when evidence prevails, sex abuse gets reported. Furthermore, any priest who has abused children is to be removed from all pastoral duties, period. In Germany, priests will only be removed from posts that involve work with children.

Again, why not go the distance with these policies? What on earth are people afraid of? I know what we are afraid of… further child sex abuse.