If the damage done has long-term effects, the victim could get a disability pension.
When handled this way, all decisions could also be contested legally. And insurance companies could ask courts to force churches to open their archives, something no church has yet had to do.
What is not spelled out, but obvious to all sides, is that this could mean the churches will have to pay significantly higher sums for coverage.
“Accident insurance companies could get the money back by charging higher premiums,” said lawyer Martin Schafhausen.
Two victims’ support groups have praised the VBG’s initiative, calling it “an important milestone along the way to more legal certainty for victims of sexual abuse in the Church.”
In 2018, the Catholic bishops revealed they had found 3,677 cases of minors abused by priests between 1946 and 2014. Some 1,565 victims applied for compensation last year.
But not until major dioceses such as Munich and Cologne published their own local investigations more recently did insurers see a link between churches and underage victims that could make abuse into a work accident.
The VBG letter said victims could include abused youths under 18 who act as altar servers, sing in choirs, belong to youth groups or go on outings. By contrast, attending a religious service or going to confession are considered private activities and abuse under such circumstances was not covered.
The insurers aren’t the only ones turning up the heat on sexual abuse compensation. The Catholic bishops’ slow response has also prompted surprising criticism from the new left-wing government of Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat who became chancellor in December.
Used to kinder treatment by Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat who was chancellor for 16 years, the church suddenly heard that Scholz was “appalled” by the Munich report.
“There is a consensus in the government that dealing with cases of structural child abuse cannot be left to institutions alone,” a Cabinet spokesman said.
Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the influential lay Central Committee of German Catholics, said the Bundestag, the country’s parliament, might have to set up a commission of inquiry into clerical sexual abuse. “I no longer believe the church alone can handle this,” she said.
Calling a parliamentary commission and writing a report could take months, even a year, and then the churches could take more time to respond.
With its letter, the VBG — the acronym stands for the association’s lengthy title, Verwaltungs-Berufsgenossenschaft (Administrative Trade Association) — may have shortened the time frame the churches have to work with considerably.
This article originally appeared here.