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Praying bishops in Wiesbaden: New field of activity

Photo: Christopher Neundorf / EPO

The Catholic bishops want to take stronger action against so-called spiritual abuse. At the autumn plenary assembly of the German Bishops' Conference, a working aid for dealing with the topic was presented. In contrast to sexualized violence, there is still far too little public interest in those affected, said Heinrich Timmerevers, Bishop of Dresden-Meissen and one of the main authors of the work aid, in Wiesbaden.

Also, there is no definition as a criminal offense in either ecclesiastical or public criminal law. Spiritual abuse can occur through influence and manipulation, for example in pastoral care. This can be in religious education or in the so-called spiritual accompaniment of religious orders or church groups. Built trust can then be used to push others in a certain direction, such as saying, "I know what God wants for you."

"Spiritual accompaniment must lead to freedom and not to control and dependence"

Bishop Timmerevers said: "Victims of spiritual abuse still find it very difficult to make their voices heard, to have their own voice in the clarification and reappraisal of abuse." In contrast to sexual abuse, there were practically never entries in the personal files of the perpetrators. Spiritual abuse is a specifically ecclesiastical phenomenon. The psychological or emotional, often long-lasting consequences are comparable to those of sexual abuse.

The work aid is a "snapshot", according to the Bishop of Mainz, Peter Kohlgraf. It should be evaluated in three years and, if necessary, revised. There is also scientific support. Among those affected, who have so far reported to a contact point, are reportedly many nuns. But men have also come forward. "Spiritual accompaniment must lead to freedom and not to control and dependence," Timmerevers said. In the case of spiritual abuse, pastoral care can lead to such dependencies and manipulation.

Michael Gerber elected Vice-President of the Bishops' Conference

In addition, the bishops elected the Bishop of Fulda, Michael Gerber, as deputy chairman of the Bishops' Conference. He succeeds Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who retired a few months ago. With the vote for the 53-year-old tanner, the pastors of the Catholic Church decided in favor of the youngest of the German diocesan bishops.

In a first statement, Gerber announced that he wanted to mediate within the various positions in the Bishops' Conference. "I tend to see polarization as an opportunity," said Gerber, who first became auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Freiburg in 2013. He has been Bishop of Fulda since 2019.

It is a "great concern" for him to continue on the path taken with the Synodal Way reform process together with the universal Church, Gerber said a few days before the World Synod in Rome. In the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Gerber is also chairman of the Commission for Spiritual Vocations and Church Services as well as a member of the Youth Commission and the Episcopal Expert Group on Issues of Sexual Abuse and Experiences of Violence.

The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference is the Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing and thus a Hessian diocesan neighbor. There is already experience in cooperation and joint projects between the neighboring dioceses, Gerber said.