ONE of Germany’s biggest accident insurers contacted the umbrella bodies of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches last month about the ongoing sexual-abuse scandals.
In a letter dated 25 April, and addressed to the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), the statutory accident insurance company VBG (Administrative Professional Association) urged the churches to report sexual violence perpetrated against volunteers such as young altar servers or youth-group leaders, as possible work-accident compensation cases.
The German weekly Die Zeit, which broke the story on 6 May, quoted from the letter to the Bishop of Limburg, the Most Revd Georg Bätzing, who chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference: “Cases of sexual abuse can also be insurance cases and therefore there is a duty to report to the VBG.
“We would like to ask you to ensure that such known cases and cases that become known are reported to the VBG by the dioceses, archdioceses and institutions as quickly as possible,” the insurer’s management wrote to Bishop Bätzing, putting pressure on the Churches.
The two Churches are, after the German civil service, the country’s biggest single employer, and therefore an economic force. The spokesmen of both Churches told Die Zeit that they were studying the letter and were in touch with the insurer.
After a study on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church was published in 2018, all 27 RC dioceses in Germany have commissioned legal opinions on sexual abuse in their dioceses since 1946. Not all of the opinions have yet been published. From those published by the archdiocese of Munich & Freising, however, and the dioceses of Aachen, Berlin, and Cologne, it emerged that, especially, under-age altar boys and girls were affected, who are legally seen as volunteers.
Volunteers are covered by accident insurance, which could pay for therapy, or even a disability pension. Currently, all sexual-abuse victims’ cases are handled by the Churches. The RC Church has set up a commission that decides on compensation for victims, which could be a payout of between €1000 and €50,000, and/or 50 hours of therapy, with no recourse to review the decision, which has been criticised by victims’ organisations as not transparent.
Benefits from the statutory accident insurance fund, however, can be claimed before the welfare court. And a review of the decisions could be enforced by an independent body.
In a joint statement, representatives of the victims’ organisation MissBiT, in the diocese of Trier, and the Initiative for Victims of Eastern Germany called the letter to the RC Church a “milestone on the way to more legal protection for victims”.
The insurance company is also now calling on those affected to report the matter to it directly. “We then check in each individual case whether the requirements are really met,” a VBG spokesman, Pierre Stage, told Die Zeit. “Everything is handled confidentially by us. No one should feel ashamed to report to us. We want to support them as best we can, and, above all, offer our help.”
News of the sexual-abuse scandal in German Churches first broke in 2010, and both Churches have not only lost credibility and moral authority in public opinion, but have been strongly criticised by victims’ organisations for their handling of cases over the years.