From its institution, the universal church of the city of seven hills has shown itself more powerful than governments which at times have challenged its authority and influence. In 2013, amid the Vatican-led “Year of Faith,” another such instance occurred as the German Catholic Church told the Berlin government it had better tow the line regarding the ongoing administration of the sex abuse scandal.
In a move that stunned government officials, the church shut down its phone line dedicated to individuals claiming sex abuse at the hands of priests. The reason? The line was not being used.
For over two and a half years, the line received calls from victims and their family members, acting as their initial contact in resolving alleged acts of clergy exploitation. “The number you have called is not in service” is what callers now hear. A spokesman for the German Bishops’ Conference claimed the line had served its intended purpose.
In a nationally televised interview, Berlin’s sanctioned arbiter for underage sex abuse stated, in defiance of the church’s actions, that such a helpline was “important for the first step towards finding help” for victims.
Furthermore, the head of the government’s initiative for those impacted by such violence and/or abuse openly opposed the Catholic Church, saying that counseling was offered but that it was not open to outside observation.
Over the past two years, the church addressed the issues of exploitation by enacting initiatives such as monetary compensation and forums to talk about problems.
In response to government opposition to the decision to close the hotline, the German bishops’ spokesman claimed the church was doing the job by offering services in all 27 of the country’s dioceses. “One can easily find their phone number and e-mail address on the Internet,” he said.
In another initial act of the new year, the German Bishops’ Conference declared the church would cancel its cooperative agreement with Prof. Christian Pfeiffer’s Lower Saxony criminology institute. The bishops, who requested the institute’s help in 2011 after sex abuse scandals were exposed—and congregants fled amid the publicity crises, and Pope Benedict xvi visited the country’s victims—said trust had been destroyed. Pfeiffer accused the church of blocking proceedings and wanting to control the process.
The professor was so upset at church actions he went to the German media and said, “We were meant to submit everything for approval.” The “we” he was referring to was a collection of retiree judges and prosecutors approved to comb through records of church personnel.
In an apparent effort to reassure the 34 percent of German citizens who claim to be Catholic and destroy the professor’s credibility, the bishop of Trier declared, “The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed.” The German church maintained that a new investigation would be commissioned in the future, but with an altogether different collaborator.
Amid the ongoing power plays, and the resultant cancellation of the abuse helpline and cooperation with the criminology institute, Europe announced what is called EC3. This is the Continent’s most recent attempt to tackle online crime.
It’s headquartered in the European judicial city of The Hague, with the avowed purpose of halting fraudulent online activity and online sexual abuse. EC3’s chief, Troels Oerting, optimistically asserted, “Just like in the offline world, we can’t just put more locks at the door. We also need to have a criminal-free environment where we can go safely, and we need exactly the same. So this is why EC3 will focus on the perpetrators, the gangsters, the criminal networks. Either they are in loose or in more hard networks.”
At the initiative’s official announcement, EU Home Affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom added, “EC3 will focus on cybercrime committed by organized crime groups, particularly those generating large criminal profits such as online frauds, and cybercrimes which cause a serious harm to the victims, such as child sexual exploitation.”
If the perpetrators, gangsters and criminal networks of Europe are to be watched, policed and prosecuted, will EC3 do the same for the Catholic Church regarding online activity and sexual abuse? Will The Hague rule Rome and bend the knees of defiant German bishops?
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