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March 2, 2011

The Catholic Church in Germany has recommended a sum of 5,000 euros to compensate sexual abuse victims. The church will also contribute extra money to a so-called "prevention fund" and pay for therapy for the victims.

A bishop's cross
The Catholic Church wants to set up a prevention fundImage: AP

The Catholic Church in Germany has proposed paying victims of sexual abuse up to 5,000 euros ($6,920) each, in cases that can no longer be brought to court because too much time has elapsed since the alleged crime took place. In particularly serious cases, a higher sum would be paid out. In addition, the church will pay for the cost of therapy for those abused by priests or other church employees.

But Matthias Katsch from the victims's group "Square Table" rejected the proposal, calling the sum "insulting." Katsch told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper it was "mean how the richest church in the world was trying to extricate itself from the affair."

The announcement by the Catholic Church came on Wednesday at a government round-table forum set up to examine the issue of child sex abuse. About 60 representatives from the world of politics, religion, society and interest groups met in Berlin to discuss the recommendations put forward by Christine Bergmann, who chairs the forum.

Bergmann, a former family minister, wants to create a compensation scheme, which would be funded by contributions from churches, the state, schools and other organizations. This pot of money would fund therapy, counseling and abuse prevention schemes.

For its part, the Catholic Church said it would put 500,000 euros towards a so-called "prevention fund." The church made it clear the money would not come from taxpayers.

Those affected would be asked to make a written application, detailing their allegations. The claims would be examined by a commission, which would determine the level of any potential payout. It is unclear how many people would come forward to make such a claim.

How much?

The public debate, meanwhile, has been more focused on the amount of financial compensation victims may receive.

In January, the Jesuit order became one of the first groups to make a move, naming a symbolic amount of 5,000 euros per victim. Some other countries have already introduced compensation schemes with much higher sums. In Ireland, a scheme funded by the state and the Catholic Church has already paid out around 65,000 euros per case.

A protester in Berlin in 2010, holding dolls
Protest groups have complained about the way cases have been handledImage: picture alliance / dpa

A senior member of the Free Democrat party, Christian Ahrendt, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung regional newspaper that any amount less than 5,000 euros would not be sufficient. Ahrendt believes a scheme "at least" as generous as that in Austria would be appropriate. There the Catholic Church pays out up to 25,000 euros per case, depending on the seriousness of the allegations.

"Compensating the victims is a moral duty of the Catholic Church," Ahrendt told the newspaper.

The round-table forum was set up at the beginning of 2010, after a spate of revelations about sexual abuse in churches and other institutions. The committee is also tasked with addressing legal issues, including a possible statute of limitation, as well as prevention methods, and victim support. It is expected to finish its work at the end of 2011.

Author: Joanna Impey (dpa, KNA)
Editor: Rob Turner