Ackermann’s withdrawal as assault officer: the pressure was too great

He stands like no other bishop to deal with abuse in the Catholic Church – and also for all that is not going well. Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann (59) has been the bishops’ representative on issues of sexual assault since the abuse scandal became known in 2010. An unloved but necessary position. The assignment has given him numerous headlines and criticism, but also respect, also from those affected. Ackermann is retiring from the post this fall. At the same time, the bishops’ conference wants to restructure the area of ​​responsibility and increase the number of employees.

Most recently, after insensitive statements from Ackermann, the pressure increased. In March, for example, the bishop revealed the real name of a victim of sexual assault known under a pseudonym. The woman, who is also employed by the diocese, had repeatedly reported as “Karin Weißenfels” about “spiritual assault” and sexual assault by a priest from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. Ackermann revealed the woman’s real name in front of about 40 diocesan employees. He then signed a letter of cessation; he also asked the woman for an apology.

Requests for resignation following publication of pseudonym

The action alliance of the affected initiatives, which includes “Eckige Tisch” and the Trier association “Missbit”, called on Ackermann to resign as an assault officer. The Advisory Board of the Episcopal Conference issued a similar statement, speaking of an “obvious loss of confidence”. The mid-April statement said: “This behavior disqualifies the abuse officer from the German Bishops’ Conference because it violates the minimum standards of trusting cooperation.”

It is not the bishop’s only unfortunate statement in relation to those affected. Last year, for example, Ackermann spoke of “activists” in connection with those affected and said it would not be helpful if an advisory board “consisted mainly of activists”. Even then, he soon apologized.

Image: © Adobe-Stock / oha (symbol image)

Ackermann’s relationship with the Trier victims’ association “Missbit” is considered distant. The initial results of the independent commission to deal with abuse in the diocese are eagerly awaited. They should be available in the fall.

The relationship with the Trier-affected association “Missbit” is considered distant. Following the publication of extensive “Spiegel” research on abuse in the Diocese of Trier, “Missbit” demonstrated in December with the slogan “Resigner, Ackermann – so things can continue” in front of Trier Cathedral.

Ackermann started as a beacon of hope. As a young bishop, he sometimes spoke critically, for example about the church’s sexual morality. However, Ackermann is not looking for the big stage. In direct conversations, on the other hand, he is accommodating and accommodating, the people affected say.

Something is moving

And beyond all the criticism – Ackermann has moved a lot in the twelve years as an assault officer, sometimes against considerable resistance from his officers. Some successes in the treatment go to his account. In 2020, the Conference of Bishops was the first institution in Germany to adopt a declaration on the structural treatment of abuses together with the Federal Government’s Abuse Commissioner. The founders of Germany agreed to proceed according to uniform criteria and, among other things, to involve those affected in the treatment.

Ackermann showed perseverance and repeatedly appealed to his bishops because the church as an institution and the public had very different expectations of him. But the overall treatment takes time, while new scandals from the past become public. In addition, there is a system of payments to those affected in recognition of the suffering that has been suffered, which is polarizing. Many lack concrete steps and accuse Ackermann of discouragement.

The entry of the German bishops
Image: © KNA / Julia Steinbrecht (symbol image)

The German bishops want to expand the topic of dealing with abuse. Ackermann must develop a concept for this before the end of his period as an abuse officer.

The bishop himself repeatedly stressed that the protection of those affected is more important than the institution’s reputation. But recent events have probably made trusting cooperation with those affected more difficult.

There have been repeated speculations about a reorganization of the office as an abuse officer. Ackermann himself said last year that he did not know if he would still be an assault officer in two years. The task is a burden, and it is doubtful how long he will have the strength to handle it. He also expressed a desire to expand the subject so that he does not become the only bishop responsible for it in the future. The bishops’ meeting wants to present a new concept for the autumn, and Ackermann must exercise his special office one last time.

As Bishop of Trier, Ackermann will continue to support the treatment of abuse there. The independent judging commission in the diocese wants to present the first results for the fall. They are eagerly awaited – also because Cardinal Reinhard Marx and his successor as conference chairman, Bishop Georg Bätzing, had long held senior positions in Trier.

By Anna Fries (KNA)

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