Swiss Catholic Church commission to examine abuse victims’ cases

Up to CHF20,000 could be paid in reparations for very severe cases of abuse. Keystone

After creating a victims’ fund one year ago, the Swiss Catholic Church has set up a reparations commission to formally examine abuse victims’ complaints. The news coincides with the publication this week of a biography in which the author recounts years of abuse by a Swiss priest. 

This content was published on February 14, 2017

The commission is ready to receive compensation requests from victims of paedophile priests, Joseph Bonnemain, from the Conference of Swiss Bishops, told the Swiss News Agency on Tuesday. 

The formal creation of the six-person commissionExternal link in January follows the establishment of a CHF500,000 ($498,000) compensation fund for victims of abuse by members of the church. 

A victim who wishes to file a compensation claim must address it to their diocese or, in French-speaking Switzerland, to the independent sexual abuse commission CECAExternal linkR. After being considered, the requests will be sent to the reparations commission. 

Since the beginning of the year, this new commission has already received two letters and expects to receive several others from diocese and CECAR in the weeks to come, commission member Tünde Kvacskay said in a statement. 

The amount of compensation will vary, and could range from a single payment of CHF10,000 to CHF20,000 for very serious cases of abuse. However, the compensation fund only covers cases that have exceeded the statute of limitations or time limit within which legal proceedings may be initiated. 

“Each time the church becomes aware of such facts, it encourages the victims to file a complaint,” Bonnemain stressed. 

Victims and cases

In 2010 the Swiss Catholic Church finally accepted responsibility for cases of sexual abuse by priests that had earlier come to light. Between 2010 and 2015External link, 294 victims informed the church authorities of cases of abuse that took place between 1950 and 2015. Of those, 49 were children aged under 12 at the time of the abuse. 

According to a news report in 2015, only 20 criminal cases have been opened against priests and Catholic monks for sexual abuse in Switzerland since 2010, despite the church catching 172 alleged offenders. 

Many of the recorded cases date back to the 1950s and some suspects have therefore died, while others simply could not be tracked down. The low prosecution rate is also down to the fact that the dioceses provided “very sketchy” information on the cases, according to the report, especially for the period between 1950 and 1980. 

New allegations 

On Friday, the book “Mon Père, je vous pardonne”External link (My Father, I forgive you) by 57-year-old Fribourg man Daniel Pittet will go on sale in which the author recounts his tragic story of sexual abuse by Capuchin priest Joël Allaz between 1968 and 1972. Pittet, who names his abuser in his new book, tells how he was abused 200 times by the now 76-year-old priest from the age of nine. 

Pittet claims the man, who lives today in a Capucin convent in German-speaking Switzerland, has also abused 100 other victims in the past. When Swiss religious authorities were alerted to his case in 1989, the priest was transferred to France. He later received a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence by a Grenoble court in 2012 for abuse of his nephew and another child in the 1990s. But no case was opened in Switzerland. 

In an interview with Blick newspaperExternal link on Tuesday at the convent where he resides, Allaz admits he is a “monster, a predator with two personalities”. After years of therapy, he says he “suffers from all the suffering” he caused to young children in cantons Fribourg, Vaud, Valais, Jura and in France. 

The book, published in French, Italian and Polish, contains a foreword by Pope Francis who Pittet met in 2015, which states that his courageous personal testimony is extremely valuable to “open people’s eyes to how evil can penetrate the heart of a church official”. The Conference of Swiss Bishops has promised to investigate the case and that of related victims.

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