German Catholic bishops set up countrywide ‘redress scheme’

On Thursday 24 September, the Conference of German Catholic Bishops disclosed plans to pay survivors of sexual and physical abuse by Catholic priests in Germany, compensation of up to €50,000 (£45,350). Rather than refer to the payments as compensation, the German Catholic Church insists on referring to them as “payments in recognition of [the survivors’] suffering.”

The president of the Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing said that the figure was arrived at after reviewing relevant court awards in German abuse claims and was at “the higher end” of comparable damages that have been made via the normal court claims process. 

The compensation will consist of a one-off payment for each claimant to be determined by an independent body which is to consist of seven members with expertise in medicine, education, psychology and law.  The members cannot be church employees. In addition, survivors will be able to seek payment for the costs of therapy and couple counselling.

The new German-wide compensation scheme is to come into effect from January 2021. Until now, abuse survivors have received an average of €5,000 in compensation per person and payments have been made by individual German dioceses to survivors.  The Bishops said that they intended the new payment scheme to bring uniformity to the Church compensation system.

This decision making body will decide on the amounts to be paid, and arrange for the payment of the compensation itself which is hoped will speed up the process.

However, the Eckiger Tisch survivors’ group criticised the announcement and had previously called for payments as high as €400,000 per survivor, particularly for those who had been left unable to work.

A report commissioned by the German bishops released in 2018 concluded that German clergy had abused thousands of children between 1946 and 2014. The report recorded allegations against 1,670 German clerics, involving 3,677 alleged victims.

As the number of redress schemes multiply worldwide, it appears clear that the Catholic Church amongst other religions, wishes to be seen to be on-board with the redress model of making payments to survivors of abuse, no doubt in the hope of making some recompense for the abuse quickly and fairly – but perhaps also to avoid the expense which is incurred when survivors are forced to pursue their claims via the normal litigation route.

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