Saturday, March 13, 2010

German AB Zollitsch Meets Pope, Takes Tough Stand On Abuse

"It's rather evident that in recent days there are those who have sought - with a certain tenacity, in Regensburg and in Munich - elements for personally involving the Holy Father in the questions of the abuses. For every objective observer, it's clear that these efforts have failed."-Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See's Press Office

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 12: Pope Benedict XVI meets head of German Bishops' Conference, Robert Zollitsch in his office to discuss abuse allegations involving the German Catholic Church on March 12, 2010 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Daylife-Getty Images)
Pictures courtesy of Daylife

Statement of German Bishops After Papal Audience:
"We Are Advancing in the Path of Healing the Wounds of the Past"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the communiqué of the president of the German episcopal conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, after his audience with Benedict XVI today in the Vatican.

As every year, after the spring Plenary Assembly of the German episcopal conference, I had a conversation today with Benedict XVI to inform him on the most important topics. For this reason, I informed the Holy Father on the cases, known in past weeks, of pedagogically violent treatment and sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church in Germany. The Holy Father received my report with great sadness and profound shock.

For me it was important to make clear that the bishops are profoundly shocked by the abuses that have been verified in ecclesial realms. In fact a few weeks ago I asked forgiveness from the victims, something that I repeat once again today in Rome. I have informed the Holy Father on the measures we have adopted. I thank him for encouraging me to continue in the implementation of this plan of measures with tenacity and courage.

We want to discover the truth and come to a legal clarification, without false interpretations, also when cases are presented to us that go back to the distant past. The victims have this right.

We follow the "Directives of the German Episcopal Conference on the procedure in cases of sexual abuses on minors perpetrated by ecclesiastics." No country has these directives. They assure the victims and their families human, therapeutic and pastoral help, which is adapted individually. In each diocese there is a reference person to go to. At present we are studying how we can possibly improve the selection of these persons.

In addition, we are reinforcing prevention. We ask the parishes and, in particular, those in charge of our schools and of youth pastoral care to promote a culture of careful observation. I am delighted by the fact that the Minister of the Family and Culture has organized a great round table with the most relevant social groups, on April 23, 2010, in Berlin, to address the problem of sexual abuse, paying particular attention to possible measures of prevention. The episcopal conference, of course, will be present. In an interview with a newspaper two weeks ago I expressed my appreciation for this great round table.

A fourth point of the measures we have adopted affects our responsibility. For this reason, we have appointed the bishop of Treveris, monsignor Stephan Ackermann, as the special person in charge of the German Episcopal Conference for all the questions linked to sexual abuses. The Holy Father has also received this idea favorably.

Allow me to confirm something once again more clearly: We are not fleeing from our responsibilities and we cannot excuse any one for the cases that occurred. However, at this time, in Germany, we are learning about a notable number of abusive action in the pedagogical realm, and of cases of abuse that occurred in the past, which go far beyond the realm of the Catholic Church. This reinforces us, the bishops, in the will to seek a dialogue with the greatest possible number of agents of the social scene to clarify matters and be able to prevent such incidents.

Also forming part of this is the Church's support to the State judicial authorities to prosecute sexual abuses against minors. We invite the priests and lay employees of our ecclesiastical institutions, as well as volunteers, to denounce themselves when there are significant facts. We will inform the judicial authorities.

We will only not do so in extraordinary circumstances, for example, when it corresponds with the desire expressed by the victim. Given that the competencies that affect the State criminal process and the ecclesiastical process are constantly presented in a mistaken way, I wish to specify once more: in case of suspicion of sexual abuses there is a State criminal process and an ecclesiastical process. They affect different juridical realms, and are totally separate and independent of one another.

Obviously the ecclesiastical process is not superior to that of the State. The result of the ecclesiastical process has no influence whatsoever on the State process, nor does it affect the support that the Church gives to the State judicial authorities.

I thank Pope Benedict XVI for his support expressed to the decisive action of the German Episcopal Conference. He encourages us to continue with consistency on the path undertaken to obtain complete and rapid clarity. In particular, he asks us to follow continually the guidelines adopted and, if necessary, to improve them.

Pope Benedict XVI also appreciated expressly our plan of measures. I come out of today's conversation reinforced and trust that we are advancing in the path of healing the wounds of the past. (emphasis added)
Holy See public relations:
VATICAN CITY, 13 MAR 2010 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. today issued a note entitled "A clear route through stormy waters".

"At the end of a week in which a large part of the attention of the European media has been focused on the question of sexual abuses committed by people in institutions of the Catholic Church, we would like to make three observations:

"Firstly, the line being taken by the German Episcopal Conference has shown itself to be the right way to face the problem in its various aspects. The declarations of the president of that conference, Archbishop Zollitsch, following his meeting with the Holy Father, recap the strategy laid down in the conference's recent assembly and reiterate its essential operational aspects: recognition of the truth and help for victims, reinforcement of preventative measures and constructive collaboration with the authorities (including the judicial authorities of State) for the common good of society.

Archbishop Zollitsch also unequivocally reiterated the opinion of experts according to whom the question of celibacy should in no way be confused with that of paedophilia. The Holy Father has encouraged the line being followed by the German bishops which - even taking account of the specific context of their own county - may be considered as a useful and inspiring model for other episcopal conferences that find themselves facing similar problems.

"Furthermore, an important and wide-ranging interview given by Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, promoter of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gives a detailed explanation of the significance of the specific canonical norms established by the Church over the years to judge the heinous crimes of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.

It is absolutely clear that these norms did not seek, and have not favoured, any kind of cover- up of such crimes; quite the contrary, they initiated intense activities to confront, judge and adequately punish the crimes in the context of ecclesiastical legislation.

And it must be remembered that all this was planned and set in motion when Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation. The line he followed was always one of rigour and coherence in dealing with even the most difficult situations.

"Finally, the archdiocese of Munich has replied, with a long and detailed communique, to questions concerning the case of a priest who moved from Essen to Munich at the time in which Cardinal Ratzinger was archbishop of that city, a priest who subsequently committed abuses. The communique highlights how the then archbishop was completely unconnected with the decisions in the wake of which the abuses took place.

Rather, it is evident that over recent days some people have sought - with considerable persistence, in Regensburg and Munich - elements that could personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse. To any objective observer, it is clear that these efforts have failed.

"Despite the storm, the Church clearly sees the route she must follow, under the sure and rigorous guidance of the Holy Father. As we have already had occasion to observe, it is our hope that this torment may, in the end, help society as a whole to show ever greater concern for the protection and formation of children and adolescents". (emphasis added)
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