German Catholics meet to address child sex abuse scandal


Berlin (AFP)

Germany's Catholic Church was due Thursday to speak about steps to address its child sex abuse scandal, which mirrors clerical paedophilia revelations worldwide.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the German Bishops' Conference, was due to give a 1300 GMT press conference at the end of a four-day episcopal conference in the western city of Lingen.

As in Australia, Chile, France, Ireland and the United States, Germany's Catholic Church has had to admit to abuses by predator priests and clergy and their systematic cover-up over decades.

Germany's Church last September released a study that showed 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

The authors said the figure was "the tip of the iceberg" as many Church documents had been "destroyed or manipulated".

The true figure of German Catholic abuse victims was estimated at 114,000 in a recent Ulm University study based on a randomised survey of the general population that was published in the Journal of Sexual Child Abuse.

Survey leader Joerg Fegert, whose study estimated similar figures for the Protestant Church, told Die Welt newspaper that he hoped the bishops' meeting "will finally face up to the true dimensions of the sexual abuse of minors".

Last month a Vatican meeting addressed the global issue heaping pressure on the Church, and this week Australian Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis's closest advisers, was jailed for six years for molesting two choirboys in 1996.

The German conference host, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, called on the Church to show greater transparency, saying that "only a Church that is pure of heart... transparent, honest and without double standards, which faces up to reality, will win back trust".

- Victims not invited -

The Catholic Church -- Germany's biggest religious community with 23 million followers -- has apologised and pledged a series of steps, from owning up to past crimes to compensating victims and preventing abuses in future.

German bishops have also debated possible changes to Catholic dogma and traditions, including the training of priests to the role of women.

The bishop charged with addressing the child abuse crisis, Stephan Ackermann, said the Church was seeking to find an "unbureaucratic" way to compensate victims and to build prevention and monitoring systems.

The Church had so far received 1,900 applications for "benefits in acknowledgement of suffering", he said Wednesday.

The main victims group, Eckiger Tisch, has urged the Church to bring in independent experts for a more thorough audit, to involve victims in the effort and to take speedy steps to compensate those who have suffered.

"We would gladly have presented our demands to the bishops directly and in person, but we were not invited," said its head, Matthias Katsch.

- 'Turn the lights on' -

Some 300 protesters rallied outside the conference on Monday, chanting "turn the lights on" and symbolically illuminating the church facade with hand-held electric torches.

The rally, organised by the Catholic Women's Community of Germany, handed over a petition with 30,000 signatures calling for far-reaching reforms, including giving women a greater role in the Church.

Germany's biggest abuse clusters have included a Berlin elite Jesuit school and the world-famous Catholic choir school the Regensburger Domspatzen where more than 500 boys suffered sexual or physical abuse.

Overall, most victims were boys and more than half were 13 years old or younger, the study last year concluded.

Predator priests were often transferred to another parish, which was usually not warned about their criminal history.

Only about one in three were subject to disciplinary hearings by the Church, and most got away with minimal punishment.

Only 38 percent were prosecuted by civil courts.