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Court orders Cologne Archdiocese pay €300k in abuse damages

June 13, 2023

It's the first court-ordered compensation payment in Germany for Catholic Church sexual abuse. Typically, as in this case, the statute of limitations has expired, but the archdiocese waived its right to avoid trial.

A cross superimposed on the Cologne cathedral
Cologne is one of Germany's largest Catholic archdiocesesImage: Ying Tang/NurPhoto/picture alliance

A German regional court on Tuesday ordered the Archdiocese of Cologne to pay €300,000 (roughly $325,000) in damages to an abuse victim for crimes committed in the 1970s. 

It's a far higher sum than Germany's Catholic Church dioceses have paid in voluntary, symbolic compensation payments in the past. 

The case could only come to court because the Church allowed it to.

Technically, as in most such cases, the statute of limitations had expired on the crimes, but the archdiocese elected to allow a court determine the appropriate compensation. 

Ít also did not contest the allegations of at least 320 instances of abuse by a priest against the plaintiff, 64-year-old Georg Menne, in the 1970s. The priest in question had confessed publicly before his death.

Tuesday's verdict is still subject to appeal, but the first reaction from Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki seemed to suggest the archdiocese did not plan to. 

"I am happy and grateful, that the court has contributed to clarity in this case with its decision," Woelki said, calling sexual abuse "a crime, whose consequences can often negatively impact those affected for their entire lives." 

Georg Menne smiles as he talks to reporters just outside the courtroom of Cologne's regional court, which awarded him €300,000 in damages for multiple cases of sexual abuse by a priest in the 1970s.
Georg Menne's lawyers had asked for a higher compensation payment, but the judge still awarded one far higher than past voluntary paymentsImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

Highest individual compensation sum in Germany 

The plaintiff's lawyers had sought compensation of €800,000. 

The court said the €300,000 payable would be reduced by €25,000, the amount Menne had already received as a part of the voluntary compensation payments the Church has been paying out to several victims in recent years. 

However, the archdiocese should also cover any future costs of care or treatment relating to trauma from the crimes that Menne might later incur, the judge said. 

For most such cases an independent commission based in Bonn had been deciding appropriate sums at the Church's behest. They are referred to as "recognition" payments. According to data from the commission, the average payment for individuals during the program's first two years had been in the region of €22,000, but 8% of cases led to damages of more than €50,000, and a handful stretched past €100,000. 

Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki at the German Bishops' Conference in 2023.
Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki said he welcomed Tuesday's verdictImage: Robert Michael/dpa/picture alliance

Priest in question continued working years after diocese knew

The abuse cases were among those included in the recent report commissioned by the Archdiocese of Cologne trying to document and identify past historical abuse suspects, and also any Church officials involved in trying to hush up the crimes. 

The investigation showed that the archdiocese was informed in 1980 and again in 2010 of the cases, but that the priest had been able to continue working for decades nevertheless. 

That report's publication in March, after a contentious delay, led to Woelki saying he was "ashamed" of its findings and to him dismissing two still-active members of the clergy in his diocese. 

Several other German archdioceses are going through similar processes — as is the case in a series of countries with large Catholic communities, particularly in Europe and North America — following the allegations and revelations of recent decades. 

msh/jcg (AFP, dpa, epd, KNA)

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