The revelation that a priest’s debts were repaid from a fund to compensate sex abuse victims has prompted outrage in Cologne’s Catholic community.
Catholics in the archdiocese of Cologne on Saturday expressed shock that the church had paid more than €1 million to clear the private debts of a priest.
The news provoked particular outrage as it emerged that the money came from a compensation fund for the victims of sexual abuse, who have so far received only a small fraction of the amount used for the priest’s debt.
What are the revelations?
As far as has become known so far, the diocese initially paid almost €500,000 ($540,000) for the priest to clear his gambling debts.
Since the money was apparently not taxed correctly, a total of €650,000 in income tax, including interest, had to be paid in arrears. The money was said to have been paid from a social fund of the diocese, from which compensation for victims of sexual abuse is also paid.
What’s the reaction?
Johassen Norpoth, spokesman for the council to the German Bishops’ Conference that assists abuse victims, said the archdiocese had been considerably less generous to those who suffered abuse.
Norpoth told Saturday’s Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper that, after years of struggle, 60% of the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other church employees, had received less than €20,000.
“Victims of sexual abuse, some of them without a secure income like that of a priest, have been fobbed off with an amount less than 2% of what the church is paying out for a priest who has got into financial difficulties,” Norpoth said.
Maria Mesrian, spokeswoman for the Catholic reform initiative Maria 2.0, said the way the money was paid back had been irresponsible.
She said victims of abuse had been offered “ridiculous sums, while millions were being wasted on an unnecessary religious college or the private gambling debts of a priest,” referring to a previous dispute over the funding of a Cologne religious college.
Church vows no repeat
The archdiocese said the events had taken place in the final years of former archbishop Joachim Meisner, and had been taken over by his successor Rainer Maria Woelki after he took office in 2014.
The archdiocese said such a case could no longer occur in the same way “because we have learned from the case and the contact between the human resources department and the clergy is more intensive and better.”
Woelki has faced mounting criticism over his handling of reports of sexual abuse in Cologne — Germany’s largest Catholic archdiocese. The cardinal offered to resign as archbishop, but Pope Francis has yet to make a decision.
Woelki also raised eyebrows earlier this month after describing the pope as an “old man.”
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