Sunday, November 28, 2010

Victims still waiting
German sex abuse victims still waiting for Church payout
As the Vatican prepares for a historic meeting Friday to confront sex abuse by priests, Germany is struggling to hammer out a victims payout plan in the wake of scandals that rocked the Church this year.

Cardinals from around the world are due at the unprecedented gathering at the Vatican to review the Church's response to molestation cases. In recent months there has been a deluge of such cases, particularly from the pope's home country.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German Episcopal Conference, announced in September that Germany's Roman Catholic Church was preparing to provide payments to victims of sexual abuse by its priests.

But it has not decided how much to offer, as critics accuse the German Church of foot-dragging years after major compensation deals were agreed in countries such as the United States and Ireland.

"They have not made a single official offer," said lawyer Manuela Groll, who represents around a dozen plaintiffs in their 50s who say they were victimised by Church priests as youngsters.

"Now we need to find out how much we think a shattered life is worth."

According to press reports and some attorneys, the Church is considering payouts of between 5,000 and 10,000 euros (6,800 and 13,500 dollars) per victim.

One victims' group, Eckiger Tisch (Square Table), said a sliding scale ranging between 20,000 and 120,000 euros based on the severity of the case, or a one-off payment of 54,000 euros would be more suitable.

But Catholic leaders here have rejected the notion of a sliding scale, a path taken notably by the Church in Austria.

The onslaught of revelations began in January when it emerged that priests at Canisius, an elite Jesuit school in Berlin, committed dozens of sexual assaults on pupils in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Apologies are not enough. We need a symbolic gesture that recognises the suffering," school rector Klaus Mertes told AFP this week, when asked about the issue of compensation for victims.

The Church in Germany has admitted it failed to investigate claims of abuse properly and that in some cases there was a cover-up, with paedophile priests simply moved elsewhere instead of being disciplined or reported to the police.

Benedict himself has faced allegations that, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he headed the Vatican morals watchdog and earlier as the archbishop of Munich, he failed to act against predator priests.

Authorities have opened several investigations but in most cases either the abuse occurred decades ago and thus falls under the statute of limitations, or the alleged perpetrators have died.

Since the emergence of hundreds of cases -- the Church has not provided an official estimate of their number -- Catholic leaders have announced measures to contend with future instances of abuse and step up prevention efforts.

In March, the German Church launched a telephone hotline for abuse victims, which has already received more than 3,500 calls.

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