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Monday, February 6, 2023

Catholic Church: Archdiocese of Munich and Freising wants to face trial

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For years, critics have been demanding that the church should not deal with cases of abuse itself and see it as the judiciary’s turn. After Cologne, there is now also a trial in Bavaria. The beginning of a wave of lawsuits?

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The Catholic Church in court: Are high-ranking churchmen complicit in an abuse case? Is a victim entitled to compensation? And compensation? For the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, these questions will not be decided by a church court, but by a secular one. The diocese itself has now finally cleared the way for this.

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Because after the complaint of a person affected by abuse before the district court of Traunstein, the diocese does not want to refer to the statute of limitations. The archdiocese “does not raise the objection of the statute of limitations,” the diocese announced on Wednesday. You face the procedure.

“The archdiocese is willing to pay appropriate compensation for the suffering of the plaintiff and to find an appropriate solution for further claims for damages,” the statement continues. “The Archdiocese deeply regrets the suffering of the plaintiff and others affected by abuse.”

Critics, who call for a legal processing of cases of abuse within the church before the judiciary, had feared that the diocese could invoke the statute of limitations and thus avoid proceedings before the Traunstein district court.

Plaintiff’s attorney evaluates the statement of defense as a success

The fact that this is not happening now makes Richard Kick, the chairman of the Advisory Board in the Archdiocese, “happy”, as he tells the German Press Agency. He speaks of a big, important signal: “That’s a clear statement.” Above all, the fact that the church now uses terms that it previously avoided like the devil avoids holy water makes him feel positive. “Pain and damages, this term has never been used before,” says Kick. Although the Catholic Church has paid money for victims of sexual violence in the past, it deliberately avoided the term compensation for pain and suffering and spoke of voluntary recognition services.

Plaintiff’s attorney Andreas Schulz sees the Archdiocese’s response to the lawsuit as a success: “The plaintiff’s strategy of filing a declaratory action before a secular court was successful,” he told dpa. From his point of view, “appropriate compensation” means more than what the church has so far paid as part of the church’s internal recognition procedures. The maximum amount is usually 50,000 euros.

The plaintiff is a man who claims to have been abused by the convicted repeat offender Priest H. in Garching an der Alz. His civil action, a so-called declaratory action, is directed against four suspects: the alleged perpetrator, the archdiocese and the former archbishops Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Friedrich Wetter.

Transferred despite allegations of abuse

The cleric was transferred to Bavaria from North Rhine-Westphalia in the 1980s, although there had previously been allegations of abuse. Even when the man was convicted of sexual abuse after further crimes in Grafing near Munich, he was transferred again: to Garching an der Alz, where nobody knew of his crimes – and the pastor abused children again.

After the death of Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the proceedings against him are suspended until a legal successor has been determined. The proceedings against the other three defendants continue unchanged. According to court spokeswoman Andrea Titz, Priest H. and Cardinal Wetter also do not refer to a statute of limitations. It is unclear how Ratzinger’s legal successor intends to position himself. The court proposed March 28 as the date for the oral hearing.

The sourdough initiative, which also supports the plaintiff financially, is “happy and relieved” about the way things have gone so far. However, everything else for the Archdiocese might have been difficult to convey. Just last week, the archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, presented in a large press conference what his diocese had learned and done a year after the presentation of the large report on abuse. If the diocese had then blocked the Traunstein court proceedings by invoking a statute of limitations, it would probably have caused a lack of understanding, not only among those affected.

Canon lawyers see a wave of lawsuits rolling towards the church

This is especially true against the background of a similar claim for damages in Cologne. There, a 62-year-old who claims to have been abused more than 300 times by a Catholic priest as an acolyte is demanding 750,000 euros. The archdiocese of Marx’s controversial cardinal colleague Rainer Maria Woelki had not referred to the statute of limitations in the matter.

The canon lawyer Thomas Schüller now sees a wave of lawsuits rolling towards the church after the decisions of the two rich archbishoprics: “Many victims of sexualized violence would now take the state lawsuit,” he told the German Press Agency. Should this happen, he sees poorer dioceses in particular in financial distress: A number of dioceses will “not be able for long to service the sums ordered by state courts, which can go up to 800,000 euros, as in Cologne, without not having to sell substantial assets such as real estate”.

Source: Stern

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