Wednesday 10 April 2024

Archdiocese of Cologne rejects claim for compensation for pain and suffering

According to a newspaper report, the Archdiocese of Cologne has rejected a claim for compensation for pain and suffering by a victim of abuse and refuses to accept official liability on the part of the church for the actions of the perpetrator. 

The 57-year-old was the foster daughter of Priest U., who was sentenced to twelve years in prison in 2022 for multiple offences of abuse

According to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper (Tuesday), the diocese's lawyers state in their defence that the acts of abuse were committed in U.'s home and that there was no apparent connection to his duties as a priest. 

In addition, U.'s superiors had not breached their duty to monitor him because they had had no concrete evidence of abuse by the priest, the newspaper quotes from the statement by the diocese's lawyers. 

Moreover, monitoring the priest would have been the responsibility of the Bonn youth welfare office, which had given U. custody of the abuse victim.

The woman is demanding 850,000 euros in compensation from the archdiocese. In the system of church payments in recognition of suffering, she had received 70,000 euros. At the time, the woman reported that a pregnancy she was unaware of had been terminated by a gynaecological procedure. 

During a second pregnancy, she had decided to have an abortion herself. The trial for compensation for pain and suffering was due to take place on Tuesday this week. 

However, the regional court postponed the hearing until 4 June. The reason for this is that the competent fifth civil chamber informed the plaintiff that, following a preliminary examination, the allegation of a breach of official duty had not yet been sufficiently substantiated. 

According to a court spokesperson, the question is to what extent the abuse took place in the private sphere of the priest or in the exercise of his office.

Lack of understanding

The woman's lawyer, Eberhard Luetjohann, expressed a lack of understanding for the court's statement. The priest does not exist as a private person, he told the "Stadt-Anzeiger". This is part of the essence of the clerical office in the Catholic Church. 

Stephan Rixen, a constitutional law expert from Cologne who is a member of the Commission of the Federal Government's Commissioner for the Investigation of Abuse, expressed a similar view. 

Rixen also pointed out that the then Cardinal of Cologne, Joseph Höffner, had expressly agreed to the custody of the foster daughter and a foster son: "Why should the archbishop have interfered at all if it had been purely a matter of U.'s private affairs?"

Lothar Jaeger, former presiding judge at the Cologne Higher Regional Court, also said that the youth welfare office had entrusted the children to the organisation of the diocese. 

This meant that the archdiocese also had a general duty of supervision. 

Thomas Schüller, a canon lawyer from Münster, told the Bonn-based "General-Anzeiger" and WDR that a priest is on duty 24 hours a day. It was "an appalling indictment of the court" if it made a distinction between acting in an official capacity and in private. 

Norbert Lüdecke, a canon lawyer from Bonn, was also disconcerted that a state court would differentiate between the official and private actions of a church representative: "This is not determined by the state, but is based on the church's right to self-determination according to the church's self-image."

In a first action for damages for pain and suffering, the Cologne Regional Court ruled last year that the archdiocese had to pay 300,000 euros to a victim

Following the landmark judgement, several other victims across Germany filed similar lawsuits.