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Germany’s Bishop Bätzing defends promotion of priest accused of sexual harassment

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg. / Bistum Limburg.

Limburg, Germany, May 27, 2022 / 06:45 am (CNA).

German Catholic Bishop Georg Bätzing has defended his decision to promote a priest accused of sexual harassment.

The bishop of Limburg, western Germany, said on May 26 that if he was taking the decision today, he would send the case for review to a diocesan advisory board, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The board did not exist at the time that Bätzing appointed the unnamed priest to the post of district dean, although the bishop knew of the allegations and was in contact with both reported victims, the “Christ und Welt” supplement of the German newspaper Die Zeit said on May 25.

The victims were identified as a trainee Protestant pastor and a Catholic employee of the Limburg diocese.

Bätzing, who has served as chairman of the German Catholic bishops’ conference since 2020, said that today he would “present the whole matter and ask for advice” from the board.

“It’s not about criminal liability or not,” he said. “It’s about hurt and a conflict that simply goes incredibly deep.”

The Diocese of Limburg issued a statement on May 25 addressing the case.

It said a diocesan employee alleged in 2007 — years before Bätzing was appointed to the diocese — that the unnamed priest had called her pet names and stroked her hair and back with his hand.

The diocese said that it took immediate action. The priest was confronted with the allegations and told to refrain from the behavior.

The employee then alleged in 2013 that the priest had touched her under her T-shirt in 2007.

“The priest was also confronted with this accusation, but in contrast to the earlier accusations, he emphatically denied it,” the diocese said.

It said: “Georg Bätzing only learned about the priest’s misconduct and the accusations a few years after his move to the Limburg diocese [in 2016].”

“He then spoke with the [Church] employee and with the priest. In 2020, the bishop also confronted him about a new allegation relating to misconduct dating back to 2000 and made against the priest.”

“Bätzing made it unmistakably clear that he disapproved of such behavior. He issued a monitio, an admonition in written form. The priest apologized for his behavior to the employee, asked for forgiveness, and showed credible remorse. He has been dealing intensively with his misconduct for years.”

It went on: “After a renewed examination of the accusations and further discussions, Bishop Georg Bätzing appointed the priest as district dean of one of the 11 districts of the diocese.”

“The employee’s consternation and indignation over this personnel decision are understandable. In a personal conversation with the employee, Bätzing tried to convey and explain this decision to her.”

“In the appointment as district dean, both the formally disapproved misconduct of the priest and his handling of it were taken into account, as well as the fact that the pastoral workers entitled to make proposals expressed a clear vote for the appointment of this priest. Bishop Georg has come to the conclusion that an appointment as district dean is possible.”

Speaking on May 26 at the 102nd Katholikentag in Stuttgart, southwest Germany, Bätzing said that physical or verbal harassment of women was “an absolute no-go.”

But he said that, in light of the accused priest’s remorse and apology, and the penalties imposed, he asked whether the priest should be offered the possibility of rehabilitation.

This was “not a faux pas,” he insisted.