German priests challenge bishops on abuse data
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt - 13 August 2011
Just six weeks ahead of Pope Benedict’s visit to his native Germany, a small but influential group of German priests has openly confronted the bishops over the Church’s approach to dealing with the abuse crisis.
At the end of June, the German bishops’ conference unanimously decided to go ahead with two three-year projects on church sex-abuse cases in order to restore the Church’s credibility after last year’s flood of abuse revelations. All 27 German dioceses would give full access to all personnel files to the Criminological Research Institute in Lower Saxony in order to determine the pattern and causes of clerical sexual abuse over at least the last 10 – in some cases the last 65 – years.
The Network of Catholic Priests, an informal association of 300-500 German priests close to the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter and the Linz Priests’ Circle, first wrote to the bishops privately protesting that opening diocesan files would be a violation of their rights. The network is strongly against such reforms as relaxing the celibacy rule, giving more power to the laity and further promoting ecumenism, arguing that Catholics who back these reforms should become Protestant.
On 5 August the bishops’ conference published a declaration signed by bishops’ conference secretary Fr Hans Langendörfer and the director of the Criminological Research Institute, Christian Pfeiffer, defending their policy and detailing how the data which the criminologists receive would be coded, made anonymous, and thus fully protected. The entire project complied fully with the data protection standards applied to research work, the bishops’ declaration emphasised.
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