The German Bishops have condemned the actions of their predecessors under the Nazis, and redoubled their efforts against clergy sex abuse.

– “Because the bishops did not oppose the war clearly, they made themselves complicit”

Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II May 7, the German Bishops’ Conference released a statement April 29 admitting that the country’s prelates not only did not condemn the crimes committed by the National Socialists, but also gave the war they waged a religious connotation, as German Catholic news agency KNA reported.

Presenting the Bishops’ statement on the Church in World War II, episcopal conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing acknowledged that many accused the Church both of failing to remember its collaborationism with the Nazis and of failing to admit it.

“We must not sit back, but carry the legacy into the future”, Bätzing recognised in a video press conference.

“This is all the more true given that Europe does not seem to be in a good state at the moment”, the German Bishops’ president warned, adding that the “old demon of division, nationalism, ‘ethnic’ thinking and authoritarian rule” is coming to the fore again, and “terrifying anti-Semitism is widespread, even here in Germany.”

The lessons of history urge that society oppose such demons, Bätzing insisted, stressing that “this applies without ifs and buts to the Church, which is committed to the gospel of peace and justice”.

For his part, Bishop Heiner Wilmer, the chairman of the German Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, quoted what the German Bishops’ Conference called the “main sentence” of the new episcopal document on World War II:

“Because the bishops did not oppose the war clearly, but most of them strengthened the will to persevere, they made themselves complicit in the war”.

Wilmer offered five reasons as to why the German Bishops at the time did not take a more critical view of the atrocities of the Nazis: the traditional Catholic teaching about the legitimacy of state authority, the doctrine of just war, the social acceptance of the natural presence of the military in everyday life, the “relationship between the Catholic Church and the German nation”, and the fundamental rejection of communism, which worked to justify a conflict with the Soviet Union.

– Catholic Church becomes first institution in Germany to agree with government on rules for investigating abuse

In the meantime, the German Bishops’ Conference agreed April 28 to fixed, transparent and binding rules for investigating sex abuse in its ranks, becoming the first institution in the country to do so.

The German Bishops’ new “Joint Declaration on Binding Criteria and Standards for an Independent Assessment of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany” is the fruit of year-long consultations with the German government’s independent commissioner for sexual abuse issues and aims at the “comprehensive, comparable and coordinated processing of sexual abuse cases in German arch/dioceses”, the episcopate said in a press release.

The German Church’s new rules for examining priestly pedophilia not only provide for the investigation of cases no longer able to be prosecuted due to the expiration of the statute of limitations or the death of an alleged perpetrator.

They also facilitate the probing of the possible negligence of Church officials in dealing with abuse cases, and will identify Church structures that enabled those crimes against minors.

In coming weeks, the government’s abuse commissioner and the Church’s spokesman on abuse issues will formalise the agreement that will lead to Germany’s 27 dioceses stating their commitment to adhere to the new principles and to undertake their own investigations into pedophilia in their ranks, if they have not already done so.

The new agreement is the latest step in the German Church’s fight against clergy sex abuse, after the country’s bishops agreed in March to compensate survivors with up to 50,000 euros.

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