Voluntary commitment helps protect children

When it comes to the prevention of sexual abuse the New Apostolic Church is undeterred. The most recent example is the introduction of a mandatory code of conduct published by the New Apostolic Church Western Germany.

“Protection from sexual violence is a duty incumbent on society as a whole, and the New Apostolic Church and its ministers are likewise committed to this duty.” This is what it says in the international Guide for Ministers. And this is also the wording in the policy currently being drawn up by the New Apostolic Church Western Germany.

In November 2022, the Apostles’ Assembly had passed a concept against sexual violence. It summarises the guidelines and measures taken over the last fifteen years or so. This is supplemented by a voluntary commitment for ministers and those who work with children and young people, for example.

A binding policy

These directives will now be officially introduced in the districts. To this end, local seminars have been organised. They are aimed primarily at ministers and those who carry functions in the Church, but parents and grandparents of children and young people—as well as all interested members of the congregation—are invited as well.

The speakers for this were trained via video conferencing in May and June. Bishop Manfred Bruns, head of the pastoral care department and a former criminal investigations officer, and Deacon Gabriele Schmitz, a qualified psychologist and practising psychotherapist, conducted the event.

Practical experience

The church in Western Germany is following a requirement of the District Apostle Meeting: “The District Apostles issue regulations for the prevention and handling of sexual assault in pastoral care, and for co-operation with law enforcement authorities of the state.” This was adopted by the international governing body of the Church at the end of 2021 together with the new Guide for Ministers.

The District Apostle Area Southern Africa has gained practical experience with such policies. A sexual misconduct policy has been in effect in the Regional Church Southern Africa since July 2020. The policy sets a clear road map for dealing with “any form of sexual misconduct” by ministers or functionaries. The document defines responsibilities, describes preventive measures, installs procedures for suspected cases, and outlines pastoral care for those affected. A panel staffed with registered professionals outside of the pastoral realm can be contacted.

This policy was reviewed and ratified last year—this is done every two years—by another independent panel of experts. Meanwhile, the Regional Church has been working on extending the programme to the countries of Botswana and Namibia.

Demand and foster

Prevention, education, and intervention are also the three pillars of the Awareness Concept of the New Apostolic Church Southern Germany. The programme was developed in 2015 and launched in 2016. In addition to guidelines, it also includes raising awareness and training events on how to deal with the issue in a mindful manner. An important element is a code of conduct in ten concise points.

Here too, there is a review and advisory panel consisting of doctors, psychologists, and lawyers—as, for example, in the Regional Church Northern and Eastern Germany. In both of these Regional Churches, as well as in Western Germany, ministers and functionaries are obligated to submit an extended certificate of good conduct, which is examined by a lawyer with regard to relevant offences.

The fight against sexual misconduct does not end at the church door. The Church aid agency in Germany, human aktiv, has been working with the child protection foundation Hänsel + Gretel for years. Nearly 150,000 euros have been donated to various projects since, the latest of which was for the distribution of so-called Strong Kids Boxes (Starke-Kinder-Kisten) for kindergartens and primary schools. After all, “Protection from sexual violence is a duty incumbent on society as a whole, and the New Apostolic Church and its ministers are likewise committed to this duty.”

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Andreas Rother