German bishops agreed Thursday that victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are entitled to payouts of up to €50,000 each, a figure campaigners insisted was far too low.
Speaking after the autumn assembly of the German Bishops' Conference, president Georg Baetzing said an independent committee would be set up to examine complaints and decide on payouts from January 1, 2021. Victims' therapy costs will also be covered.
Some survivors would find the one-off sum of up to €50,000 "unsatisfactory", Bishop Baetzing admitted. "But I see it as a genuine step forwards," he told a press conference in the central city of Fulda.
The new system is based on proposals already approved by bishops at a gathering in March.
The Eckiger Tisch victims' group was quick to criticise the announcement, calling for sums as high as 400,000 euros per survivor to take into account a lifetime of trauma and the "decades-long, systematic cover-up of crimes against children and adolescents by the Church".
The campaign group said it would launch a petition for German lawmakers to discuss the historic abuse scandal in parliament and acknowledge the need for "appropriate compensation".
Like other countries around the world, Germany has in recent years been rocked by revelations of sexual abuse by priests and other clergy.
A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.
The real number of victims is estimated to be even higher.
The German Catholic Church has however rejected demands for six-figure payouts for survivors as too costly.
It has also refused to call the payouts compensation, referring to them instead as "payments in recognition of their suffering".
Until now, the Church has paid survivors an average sum of up to €5,000 each.
Baetzing said the new sum of up to €50,000 was at "the higher end" of comparable payouts in German courts for abuse cases.
He also defended the Church's decision to stick with the system of "recognition" payments.
German courts have "high standards" for awarding compensation, he said, with a burden of proof that could be hard to meet in cases where perpetrators may have died already, or where records no longer exist that could back up the allegations.
The seven-member independent committee that will be set up - consisting of experts in health, psychology, law and education - will set "a low threshold" for accepting cases, he said.
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