The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has caught up with a dark past. For many years it seemed to be a better institution than the Catholic one. She gave the impression that she was progressive, more modern and tolerant, but especially that she avoided scandals. However, new revelations confirm the opposite – evangelical clergy are responsible for thousands of cases of sexual abuse that their superiors tried to cover up.
Child abuse, evangelical church At a press conference in Hanover, Martin Wazlawik hands over a study on the sexual abuse of children and adolescents to Kirsten Fehrs, president of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
One analysis with 871 pages was enough and the second largest church in Germany was shaken to its foundations. The results of the ForuM study, which was published a few days ago by the Independent Commission to Investigate the Sexual Abuse of Children, caused a shock. Until now, the Evangelical Church has presented itself as a brotherhood where believers can feel safe. The study disproved this view.
“The evangelical church can no longer maintain the idea of itself as a ‘better’, more enlightened and more liberal church,” the authors of the study said in a statement. “We are convinced that its credibility and future depend above all on whether it acknowledges its own mistakes and shortcomings, whether it takes responsibility for them and immediately draws consequences,” the seven-member commission added.
The tip of the glacier
A team of experts examined data from 20 independent country churches and 17 diaconies under the EKD and arrived at startling figures. The study mentions at least 2,225 victims – children and adolescents – and 1,259 perpetrators. Most of the abused were under 14 years old.
“However, this is only the tip of the iceberg,” commented Martin Wazlawik, a professor from the University of Hannover who was the leader of the team, at the press conference on the conclusions of the study. As he pointed out, his group did not receive all the required documents, so the number of victims is actually much higher.
Based on other available data, experts assume that since 1946, the clergy of the Evangelical Church throughout Germany (including the former GDR) sexually abused up to 9,355 children and adolescents. There were allegedly 3,497 perpetrators – a third of them were parish priests and vicars.
The high number of victims is all the more shocking because, unlike Catholic priests, their colleagues in the evangelical church do not have to observe celibacy and can start a family. Nevertheless, sexual abuse was committed by more than 66 percent of married clergy.
“The perpetrators also lived in an evangelical parish and often deliberately pretended to be a family idyll so as not to arouse suspicion,” commented NDR television commentator Florian Breitmeier.
Most of the culprits in cassocks were men, only 0.4 percent were women. Among the victims, boys predominated (64.7 percent), girls were 35.3 percent.
Reluctance of the church
The authors of the analysis criticize the evangelical church not only for the revealed deeds, but also for its reluctance and indifferent approach. Despite the fact that she ordered the study herself in 2020 and gave 3.6 million euros for it, she did not cooperate sufficiently with the professional team.
According to the plan, she was supposed to make personal files available to him – just like in 2018 for the so-called The MHG study was done by the Catholic Church in Germany, which supplied over 38,000 of these materials. Of the evangelical institutions, only one regional church complied, the remaining nineteen only provided data from closed disciplinary files and other documents.
Child abuse, crucifix Crucifix with the meaning of the word abuse in the German explanatory dictionary.
Diakonia was similarly preserved, in which abuse often occurred in homes and facilities for children and youth. She only reported cases from before 1979 to the authors of the study, so there could be many more altogether. As a result, data on both victims and perpetrators is skewed and represents only a fraction of the total.
“Responsibility for missing or incomplete data in the study lies with EKD,” the research team said in a statement. Experts blame the church for the fact that, although it has promised transparency, it does not make a sincere effort to reveal the sins in its ranks.
The victims, in turn, warned that EKD can interpret the study in its own way. “I’m worried that it will be embellished. That the regional church and the deaconry will say: It’s not that bad at all,” Detlev Zander, one of the spokesmen for victims of the evangelical church, who was once abused in a Protestant orphanage, indicated to Das Erste television.
His colleagues recall that many victims kept silent about what they experienced and never reported it. A hundred others, on the contrary, found courage and helped the team of experts with advice and testimony.
The authors of the study also criticized the church’s attitude towards abuse and the way it treated victims. According to them, she acted “without empathy, ignored the right of those affected to justice” and disappointed their expectation that she would investigate the cases.
The findings show that the church conducted at least one disciplinary proceeding against about 60 percent of the accused priests in the matter of sexual abuse. A third of them were later stopped – either for lack of evidence or for the voluntary departure of the clergyman.
However, in some cases, even after disciplinary proceedings, priests were reappointed to their previous position. Only 45 percent of the accused were prosecuted for their actions by the police.
EKD Council President Kirsten Fehrs admitted that the church had failed. “Even as an institution, we have sinned against countless people. And I can only ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart for those we hurt in this way,” she declared at the press conference. As she emphasized, it will be necessary to act and take concrete measures to regain trust.
Departures of the faithful
The Evangelical Church also published a statement entitled We Take Responsibility. “Those affected were not heard, the actions were not clarified and the perpetrators were protected,” it says. EKD promises to look into the matter and draw consequences.
However, according to the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Sexual Exploitation of Children, the solution should also include a new approach to compensation for victims. Until now, they have been paid different amounts from five to 50 thousand euros, which according to the committee is not enough.
“The yardstick should be the sum of 300,000 euros, which was awarded to victims of sexual violence by the Catholic Church in June 2023 by the regional court in Cologne,” the commission reasoned. If EKD were to follow this, the total compensation costs could reach hundreds of millions of euros.
News about the sexual abuse of children by church officials is one of the main reasons why hundreds of thousands of Germans have come out of them recently. In 2022, the Catholic Church lost more than half a million and the Evangelical Church lost about 380,000 believers, which are the highest numbers in history.
Since believers registered in Germany have to pay the so-called church tax, their mass departures threaten the very existence of churches. For example, in 2022, the Catholic Church received 6.8 billion euros from these sources, and the Evangelical Church 6.2 billion euros.