The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Numerous other victims of abuse in the church come forward

Updated at 06 Mar 2024 2:20 pm

Six months after the publication of a study by the University of Zurich on abuse in the Catholic Church in Switzerland, more alleged victims have come forward to the dioceses and victim support centers. According to a Keystone-SDA investigation, there are over 170.

The diocese of Basel published the latest figures on Tuesday. Since September 2023, the diocese has received 92 reports. In the entire 13-year term of office of Bishop Felix Gmür to date, there have been 183 reports. In some cases, the new reports also included inquiries about previously reported incidents.

In other dioceses, the publication of the pilot study did not lead to such a large number of reports, as the Keystone-SDA news agency learned on request. In total, the five dioceses reported just under 80 suspected victims.

Cases in the past

In the diocese of Chur, 21 victims of sexual abuse turned to the diocesan expert committee or directly to Bishop Joseph Maria Bonnemain. The cases ranged from advances to rape. Almost all cases were in the past - sometimes up to 70 years ago. One case was recent. Bonnemain is responsible for dealing with cases of abuse in the church.

Since the publication of the study, the number of reported cases has increased significantly, according to the Diocese of St. Gallen. The expert committee conducted over two dozen interviews and forwarded 16 cases to the national compensation fund for compensation.

The majority concerned sexual assaults in childhood and adolescence, with a smaller proportion involving adults in pastoral care. The crimes occurred more than two decades ago and took place in children's homes, against altar boys or during religious instruction.

The diocese of Lausanne-Geneva-Fribourg has registered 14 new reports since the study. The victims were eight women and six men. The acts ranged from physical and verbal sexual assaults to photographs of naked children.

In Sion, seven victims came forward after the study was published. In 2023, there were a total of ten new cases, according to the expert committee "Sexual assaults in the church environment". The panel did not act on one report as it came from a third party and no further details were provided. The panel's investigations are still ongoing.

Ten alleged victims of abuse have come forward to the diocese of Lugano since September. Most of the cases involve sexual harassment, but some also involve sexual acts with children and sexual abuse. Some of the cases were already known, while others are new allegations.

SBK builds centers

The Swiss Bishops' Conference (SBC) did not receive any reports. The centers for this are the dioceses, as it announced. The conference announced the creation of national centers per national language, a project that has been launched.

The abuse study was not without consequences for the Protestant Reformed Church in Switzerland. It does not keep statistics on cases of abuse, but has reportedly been carefully investigating abuse for years.

The Protestant Reformed Church expressly calls on victims to report abuse. Those responsible are currently planning a preliminary study on abuse. The Reformed Church also recorded a certain increase in resignations after the study. There was an unprecedented wave among Catholics.

Contact points and self-help

The six Swiss dioceses maintain contact points for victims. There are also non-church institutions for victims of abuse, such as the French-speaking Swiss self-help group for victims of sexual abuse (Sapec) or IG Miku, the interest group for victims of abuse in the church environment.

The dioceses offer those affected support, assistance and satisfaction. The bishops are obliged to report suspected crimes, even if the statute of limitations has expired. The report is only omitted if the alleged perpetrator is already dead.

Canon law has no statute of limitations. Even decades after abuse has occurred, the church can still impose measures such as bans.

The study conducted by the University of Zurich in September 2023 showed that priests and members of religious orders in Switzerland had committed over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse since 1950 - with a high number of unreported cases. A second study has been in progress since the beginning of this year. The results are due to be presented in 2027.


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