Admitting past failures in dealing with cases of sexual abuse by clergy against young people, Germany's Roman Catholic bishops have announced stricter procedures for selecting new priests - writes Anli Serfontein.
At its annual autumn meeting in the central German town of Fulda towards the end of September 2010, the German Bishops' Conference discussed how to prevent sexual abuse of minors in the future. The bishops agreed a new framework that would be introduced into all their institutions.
Earlier, the bishops had apologised for the abuse that had taken place within Catholic Church institutions, and announced that the matter of compensation for victims is to be discussed with government officials.
"We know that we failed," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chairperson of the bishops' conference, told the meeting of 67 diocesan and auxiliary bishops from the 27 German dioceses during the opening ceremony on 20 September. Then, in a statement, Zollitsch said that, as part of the new prevention programme, the bishops had decided to put a special emphasis on the training and selection of priests.
"One of the most important criteria for serving as a priest is the development of a stable personal identity. Therefore, as part of a process of prevention before they are accepted, we must pinpoint necessary therapeutic steps for potential candidates, who may have deficits in their personality development or have mental problems. Eventually, we may have to resolutely reject candidates who are not suitable," Zollitsch told journalists.
When the bishops last met in February, they appointed Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier to head an investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany. In April, Ackermann set up a hotline for victims, and in November he will discuss the implementation of the new guidelines with the principals of German seminaries, and with psychologists.
Ackermann said that by implementing the new guidelines, the church wanted to achieve a lasting system of prevention.
"Our goal is to sensitise and educate all people working in church institutions to recognise signs of sexual abuse, and to react appropriately. These guidelines should help to prevent sexual abuse. This [abuse] also includes sexual violence by minors among themselves, of which I am again informed of with great concern," said Ackermann.
The new framework for the prevention of sexual abuse includes a code of behaviour, a stricter selection of employees, quality management, internal and external church channels to report sexual abuse, and specialised training courses to recognise abuse.
On the issue of payouts to victims, which their support groups have demanded, Zollitsch said that Ackermann would put forward a proposal during his discussions with the German government. Still, Zollitsch indicated that a demand for 80,000 euros for each victim would be unrealistic, as it would adversely affect other Catholic institutions that had already suffered severe cut backs.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]