Germany’s Protestant leader quits but denies ignoring sex abuse allegations

Annette Kurschus says she is stepping down ‘to prevent damage to my church’.

Annette Kurschus, leader of the Evangelical Church in Germany addresses a memorial service for the 150 people killed in the Germanwings plane crash in the Cathedral in Cologne, western Germany on April 17, 2015. About 1,400 mourners attend the service, among them 500 relatives of the victims, in northern Europe's largest Gothic church, which will also be broadcast live on screens outside the cathedral and to viewers nationwide. AFP PHOTO / POOL / OLIVER BERG (Photo by OLIVER BERG / POOL / AFP)
Annette Kurschus, leader of the Protestant Church in Germany, stepped down on November 20, 2023 [Oliver Berg/Pool/AFP]

The head of the Protestant Church in Germany has resigned amid accusations she turned a blind eye to allegations of sexual assault at a church she pastored in the 1990s.

Annette Kurschus, a senior theologian who led Germany’s largest Protestant federation, said on Monday that she had no knowledge of the alleged abuse at the time but would step down to “prevent damage to my church”.

“At every moment, I acted to the best of my knowledge and my conscience,” Kurschus said at a press conference announcing her resignation. “But public trust in my person has been damaged.”

The 60-year-old theologian has been dogged by media reports that she was informed “in detail” of allegations of sexual abuse against a church colleague in the 1990s and took no action.

The colleague — who served as a vicar in the church district of Siegen, where Kurschus worked — is now being investigated by police.

Kurschus said she had been aware of the man’s “homosexuality and unfaithfulness in marriage” at the time but heard allegations of sexual abuse only this year.

“I have never – and I stress this – never sought to shirk my responsibility, withhold important facts, cover up facts or even cover up for an accused person,” she said.

Anna-Nicole Heinrich, who heads the Protestant Church’s synod, said Kurschus’s resignation “shows the importance placed by the church on firm action on the issue of sexual violence”.

History of abuse

While the Catholic Church has for years been rocked by sexual assault allegations against clergy, German Protestant institutions, which represent 19 million people, have faced little scrutiny.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 Catholic clergymen in the country had committed some form of sexual attacks against 3,677 minors from 1946 to 2014.

The real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

An 800-page report on just the Cologne diocese, released in 2021, found 202 alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and 314 victims from 1975 to 2018. More than half of the victims were under 14.

The Catholic Church’s payouts for victims of abuse in Germany were increased in 2020 to up to 50,000 euros ($54,600), from about 5,000 euros ($5,460) previously, but campaigners say the sum is still inadequate.

Last year alone, about 28 million euros ($30m) in payments were approved.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies