The Aachen Bishop Helmut This is the new abuse commissioner of the Germans Bishops’ Conference. The archbishop of Freiburg, Stephan Burger, is to act as deputy. He and Burger take over the office from Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, who resigns after twelve years. With the change in personnel, new structures for dealing with and preventing sexual abuse are also to be created. This was decided by the bishops at their autumn plenary meeting in Fulda.
In essence, for the topic abuse two new committees are set up: A broader episcopal specialist group with This and Burger at the top. And an independent expert council, which should include external experts from various disciplines, but also representatives of the Advisory Board of the German Bishops’ Conference. The advisory board should be retained.
So you make three committees out of one representative – true to the motto “a lot helps a lot?” No, it’s about “consolidating this area,” Ackermann advertises in project manager-speak for the new model: The topic needs “constant attention and sensitivity”, a “bundling in the treatment”. Specifically: The expert council should ensure that state and church guidelines are observed, it should ensure the quality of the processing and take care of transparent and regular reports. “It is important that the expert panel no longer approaches the subject from our, from the episcopal logic, but from the professional perspective,” says Helmut Der. He has been bishop of Aachen since 2016, before that he was auxiliary bishop in Trier, where he also studied. The subject of abuse is “an incomplete task,” said This.
“Even a new officer and new bodies will not change anything,” said Matthias Katsch, spokesman for the “Eckiger Tisch” association for those affected. So far, not a single bishop has resigned, and responsibility is resolved in dozens of studies and reports. Johannes Norpoth from the Advisory Board of the Bishops’ Conference rated the personnel more positively. “Bishop This has experience in the context of reappraisal,” said Norpoth of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “He did not allow himself to be swayed by external influences with the Aachen study and published it accordingly.”
“An inner church culture or lack of culture of looking the other way”
Helmut Diese had stuck to an abuse report for his diocese from the Munich chancery Westpfahl Spilker Wastl shortly after Cologne’s Archbishop Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki had canceled a report from the same chancellery for his archdiocese. In addition, according to Norpoth, this shows on the synodal path that he is prepared to take clear and unambiguous positions, even against the resistance of the clergy. “It is to be hoped that he does not lose this clarity and clarity as abuse officer.”
Outgoing commissioner Ackermann said he knew he had hurt those affected, “even if it wasn’t my intention. I am sincerely sorry and I would like to ask for your forgiveness.” The office has changed its view of the church: there is “a culture within the church or a lack of culture of looking the other way and of self-protection that has not yet been overcome”. Ackermann was recently criticized, among other things, because he had revealed the real name of an affected person who only appeared under a pseudonym in front of diocese employees. A canon lawyer had Ackermann in this context reported to Pope Francis for indirect breach of the seal of confession.