Bishops who cover up sex abuse should have their episcopal ordinations annulled, a aurvivors’ group has said.

– Negligent bishops “must resign from office”

Robert Köhler, the spokesman of the association of victims of Catholic Church abuse in Ettal, in Bavaria, made the proposal in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Köhler insisted that bishops who covered up deeds and protected perpetrators in previous roles in the Church – as vicars general, for example – should have their consecration to the episcopate considered invalid.

The survivors’ advocate made a comparison to what happens with Catholic marriages, which can be annulled by an ecclesiastical tribunal on the basis of deceit, a serious lack of judgment and incapacity to carry out the obligations of that state of life, amongst other reasons.

Köhler suggested that, as in marriage, a man who had been ordained to the episcopate could also be affected by impediments – in this case, deceit in his prior handling of abuse allegations – that would make the sacrament invalid.

Recognising that his is a “provocative thesis”, Köhler called on Church authorities to establish a mechanism to check the validity of bishops’ consecrations. Such a tribunal would go beyond the current provisions for “defrocking” – or in Church language, laicisation – that exist in Church law, which only in extremely rare cases have been applied to bishops.

Going even further, Köhler warned: “If those in positions of responsibility in the Church hierarchy reinstated abusers over many years, such that perpetrators were able to be active again and again, they must draw the consequences and resign from office”.

– “Every fifth parish” in Germany “has been affected by abuse in the last 50 years”

At their recent autumn plenary assembly the German Bishops agreed on a long-awaited compensation scheme for survivors of clergy sex abuse. The amount the Bishops will pay for pain and suffering will be based on the rulings of secular courts, amounts could reach in individual cases up to 50,000 euros.

Köhler welcomed the new compensation program of the Bishops and recalled that it is similar to one introduced in the Austrian Church in 2010. “It is just that it comes very late”, the survivors’ advocate lamented, urging the German Bishops to put the scheme into practice by 2021 at the latest.

Köhler also warned that the implementation of a uniform survivors’ compensation scheme would not end the reckoning process the German Church must go through.

“The purifying thunderstorm has not really happened yet”, he cautioned, adding that in his estimate “every fifth parish” in Germany “has been affected by abuse in the last 50 years”.

– Vatican expert calls for accountability in Church: “We are not a special world”

In the lead-up to the German Bishops’ plenary assembly, Vatican anti-abuse expert Hans Zollner SJ – a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome – also expressed his expectation that bishops found to have covered up abuse would resign in the future.

Zollner called for accountability in the Church, saying that “we are not a special world”.

Church authorities must not “stop at the suffering of those affected”, he insisted, but must also ask: “Who enabled this, which processes were responsible for it, which persons were responsible for it, what prevented them from fulfilling their responsibility?”

Bishop of Trier Stephan Ackermann also countenanced the possibility of bishops found to have been negligent in their responses to sex abuse being forced to resign, “if the conclusion is reached through independent processes… that people did not live up to their responsibility and therefore others were harmed”.

More stories on Novena on the Church’s reckoning with clergy sex abuse:

Would-be female archbishop: “When there are more women in positions of responsibility in the Church, there will be less abuse”

US laypeople criticise “lack of accountability” in Vatican order that disgraced bishop pay back only a fraction of misused funds

“A major step forward”: Expert welcomes new Vatican guidelines on dealing with clergy sex abuse

Vatican issues guide on clergy sex abuse, urges bishops to report claims to civil authorities, avoid transfer of alleged perpetrators


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.