A new hotline for those claiming they were abused by clergy launched by the German Catholic Church on Tuesday received around a thousand calls on its first day of operation. The Catholic Church is struggling to recover from a series of allegations that priests have sexually abused children for decades.
“It should be noted that the there were many more calls than one would have thought,” said Nina Schmedding, a spokesperson for the conference of German bishops, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
The hotline has already registered some 4,500 attempted calls, although this number includes callers who were forced to try several times before reaching a sympathetic ear. The church estimates that some 1,000 of these calls eventually spoke to a church representative.
“Among these calls, 162 resulted in talks with a counsellor or psychologist,” Schmedding said. The others – the vast majority – were simply offering congratulations for introducing this free service, with most calls lasting between five minutes and one hour, she said.
It remains to be seen to what use the hotline will eventually be put, and whether it will help the church regain its stature with the public after the revelations. “We will need to wait about a week before we can know exactly who is calling and what actions followed these calls,” Schmedding said.
In an official statement published on Wednesday, Doctor Andreas Zimmer, who is in charge of the hotline’s team of counsellors, said most of the 162 calls were from “either victims of abuse themselves or close relations of the abused calling on their behalf”.
Church in crisis
In Germany, the scandal over sexual abuse committed by priests has a particular resonance, partly because Pope Benedict, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger, is originally of German origin. Moreover, says a leading article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Wednesday, “barely a day goes by without a new revelation”.
The launch of the hotline also has its critics, who question the wisdom of having the church – which has already been accused of helping cover up reports of abuse – control these new disclosures.
The church is indeed contending with a severe blow to its image among the German public. According to a Wednesday survey published in Die Welt, one in five Catholics has considered leaving the church since the start of the scandal while only 31 percent say the current pope is doing a good job.