Spiritual abuse: Bishops want to listen to victims
New area of responsibility, new deputy chairman: The autumn general assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference will also be about a form of abuse about which little is known so far.
At the autumn general assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference there is a working aid for dealing with spiritual matters Abuse has been presented. Unlike sexual 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. There is also no definition of a crime in either church or public criminal law. The members of the German Bishops’ Conference will discuss in Wiesbaden until Thursday.
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. Trust built can then be used to push others in a particular direction, such as saying, “I know what God wants for you.”
Specifically ecclesiastical phenomenon
Bishop Timmerevers said: “Victims of spiritual abuse still find it very difficult to make themselves heard and to have their own voice in the clarification and processing of abuse.” Unlike sexual abuse, there were practically never any entries in the perpetrators’ personal files. Spiritual abuse is a specifically church phenomenon. The psychological or emotional, often long-lasting consequences are comparable to those of sexual abuse.
The work aid is a “snapshot,” said Mainz Bishop Peter Kohlgraf. It should be evaluated in three years and revised if necessary. There is also scientific support. According to the information, many of those affected who have reported to a contact point so far are women religious. But men also came forward. “Spiritual guidance must lead to freedom and not to control and dependence,” said Timmerevers. In the case of spiritual abuse, pastoral care can lead to such dependencies and manipulation.
New chairman: “See polarization as an opportunity”
Also today, the bishops elected Fulda Bishop Michael Gerber as deputy chairman of the bishops’ conference. He succeeds Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who retired a few months ago. By voting for the 53-year-old Gerber, the senior shepherds of the Catholic Church chose the youngest of the German diocesan bishops.
In an initial 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 initially became auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Freiburg in 2013. He has been Bishop of Fulda since 2019.
Gerber said a few days before the World Synod in Rome that it was “greatly important” to him to continue to follow the path taken with the Synodal Path reform process together with the universal Church. In the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Gerber is also chairman of the commission for spiritual professions and church services as well as a member of the youth commission and the episcopal specialist group for questions of sexual abuse and experiences of violence.
The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference is Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing and is therefore a neighbor of the Hessian diocese. There is already experience in cooperation and joint projects between the neighboring dioceses, said Gerber.