When it comes to sexual violence or abuse of children and young people in the church, allegations against Catholic priests are the focus. Recently, allegations against one of the highest dignitaries, Cardinal Franz Hengsbach, who died in 1991, became public. "In my eyes, the Protestant Church had the image for a long time: 'We have isolated cases,'" says the federal government's abuse commissioner, Kerstin Claus. It was only in 2018 that it was understood that it was “structures within the church that made the years of abuse and its cover-up possible to a greater extent.”
At the end of 2020, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) commissioned an independent study on sexual violence and other forms of abuse in the area of the EKD and Diakonie. The EKD and regional churches are supporting the research project with around 3.6 million euros. Results of this so-called forum study, which includes scientists from Hanover, Hamburg and Munich, are expected at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024.
Claus hopes that the study will provide insights into particular risk factors and thus specific perpetrator strategies and crime contexts in the Protestant Church. "We know from experience reports that young people who were particularly close to pastors, pastors or team members during confirmation and in youth work were increasingly exposed to sexual violence." Anyone who exploits their position as a pastor is acting in a particularly perfidious and reprehensible manner.
Katharina Kracht was severely sexually abused by a Protestant pastor in Nenndorf near Hamburg in Lower Saxony in the 1980s and 1990s. It started with touching games on confirmation trips, and before her 18th birthday there was severe sexual abuse. It took the young woman ten years to realize that the alleged love affair was sexualized violence. She still suffers from the psychological consequences today.
Although Kracht made her experiences of abuse public three years ago under a pseudonym together with church representatives, she is disappointed with the way the Protestant Church deals with those affected. "I don't know whether it's inability or unwillingness," says the 50-year-old, who received 35,000 euros from the Hanover regional church in recognition of her suffering. At first this sum seemed high to her, but given the health consequences - just like many other people affected - it was far too low, says Kracht. After all, the church receives hundreds of millions of euros in state benefits every year.
As it turned out, the Protestant pastor, who died in 2013, had abused other girls in Nenndorf and also in his previous parish in Wolfsburg. “What is needed is an ombudsman office for those affected by sexual violence that is independent of the church,” emphasizes Kracht. This already exists, says an EKD spokesman and refers to the independent central contact point Help (www.anlaufstelle.help). In addition, some regional churches have appointed independent contact persons such as lawyers.
“The Protestant Church is lagging far behind in dealing with abuse in the Catholic Church,” criticizes canon lawyer Thomas Schüller from the University of Münster. For a long time there was a false belief that the supposed risk factors in the Catholic Church, such as celibacy and traditional sexual morals, did not exist in the Protestant Church. Crime scenes also include Protestant parsonages with married pastors and their families.
By the end of 2022, the regional churches of the EKD had reported a total of 858 applications for recognition services. However, this number does not correspond to the number of all cases of sexual violence in the Protestant church and the diakonia, says the EKD spokesman. “Cases in which the person concerned does not want to or cannot submit an application are not included here.” According to the spokesman, the applications report a total of 904 male and 190 female perpetrators.
The affected person, Detlev Zander, assumes that there are “tens of thousands of cases of sexualized violence” in the area of the EKD and Diakonie. The so-called old cases must also be taken into account in the figures, he says. Zander is a spokesman for those affected by the EKD's so-called Sexual Violence Participation Forum, which was set up in 2022. Those affected and church representatives sit on the committee.
Zander criticizes that it does not do justice to those affected if a regional church or diakonia pays out different amounts for their crimes. In the Catholic Church, the so-called Independent Commission for Recognition Services (UKA) is responsible for this; at the EKD, the individual regional churches have so far made different decisions. A working group of the participation forum wants to submit proposals for uniform regulations to the EKD synod in November.
“The economic interests of the EKD and Diakonie must not be in the foreground,” emphasizes Zander, who grew up in a children’s home run by the Evangelical Brethren Community of Korntal in Baden-Württemberg. It wasn't those affected who were greedy for money, but rather the perpetrators who were greedy. "I know what I'm talking about, I was raped for years as a child."
In the Korntal Evangelical Brethren Community, children experienced physical and sexual violence from the 1950s to the 1980s. Dozens of perpetrators are known, especially carers and employees. 140 cases have been documented - but the crimes are legally barred. In 2022, three memorials were erected on the home grounds to remind children of how their lives were damaged by violent excesses by adults.