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Resignation of EKD leader Kurschus: First the church, last the person

It’s like an earthquake in the Evangelical Church: Council Chairwoman Kurschus is resigning – in order to maintain credibility for her office.

A woman stands in front of microphones

Annette Kurschus: Her last day as EKD council chairwoman Photo: Christoph Reichwein/dpa

BERLIN taz | At when she takes office in 2021 She had declared the investigation of cases of sexual violence in the Protestant Church to be her “chief responsibility”. Now the council chairwoman of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Annette Kurschus, has herself come under pressure in the matter. On Monday morning she resigned from her position as council chairwoman and from her position as president of the Evangelical Church in Westphalia. “I am very sad, but I am walking confidently and upright,” said Kurschus in Bielefeld. She is at peace with herself about the matter.

What exactly happened around three decades ago in the Siegen-Wittgenstein church district is currently still completely unclear. But the allegations that are being made are serious. Essentially, it is about suspected cases against an employee from Kurschus’ church circle at the time who is said to have sexually harassed young men. Kurschus, according to the accusation, did not deal with the case transparently, and it is unclear when she found out about it

Kurschus had been friends with the family for a long time, as she said on Monday, but she was never employed by the man. “Not even during my time as pastor and superintendent in the Siegen church district.” At that time, she only noticed the accused’s homosexuality and marital infidelity. But she also said: “I wish I had been so attentive, trained and sensitive to behavioral patterns 25 years ago that would alarm me today.”

Pressure increased over the weekend

They were the first to report Siegen newspaper, in which those affected expressed their opinions. The Siegen public prosecutor’s office is investigating several suspected cases against the former church employee. According to the public prosecutor’s office, it is unclear based on the current status of the investigation whether this constituted criminally relevant behavior; the offenses could also already be statute-barred.

At the synod in Ulm last week, Kurschus rejected suggestions that she knew about the man’s behavior and covered it up. But over the weekend the pressure on the council chair increased. The participation forum for those affected by sexual violence in the Protestant Church had recently distanced itself from Kurschus.

“The current reporting calls Ms. Kurschus’s credibility into question,” representatives said last Thursday. The forum’s spokesman, Detlev Zander, said: “Ms. Kurschus is no longer acceptable for those affected.” Now Kurschus has pulled the ripcord. “Instead of those affected and their protection, it has been exclusively about me for days,” she said on Monday. “This has to finally stop.” She definitely does not want to resolve the conflict that has been stirred up in public between victims of sexual violence and her as a public official. Because that jeopardizes success in dealing with and combating sexual violence.

The leadership didn’t just consist of Kurschus

Kurschus’ decision has her full respect, said Kerstin Claus, the federal government’s independent commissioner for child sexual abuse issues, to the taz. It is clear that public pressure has damaged Kurschus’ credibility when it comes to coming to terms with the issue. According to Claus, she would have liked Kurschus to have explained more fully the reasons for her decision that led to her resignation. “The great silence in the church and other institutions means that those affected are once again responsible for going public with their experiences,” criticized Claus.

Damage limitation alone is not enough, says Claus. The EKD council chairwoman, who has now resigned, should have communicated more consistently at the synod in Ulm last week. “It amazes me that these mistakes are still being made,” said Claus. But the church leadership does not only consist of the council chairwoman. It is striking that no one publicly joined the debate before resigning. Even when taz asked several people in positions of responsibility in the church, no one wanted to comment.

The former chairman of the German Ethics Council, Peter Dabrock, described Kurschus’ resignation as “impressive” and “sincere”. “She acted as it is claimed in politics but is rarely fulfilled: first the big thing, then the office, then the person,” Dabrock told the taz. He has known Kurschus for many years. “Certainly some things didn’t go well in communication. But there were also people who probably didn’t want to trust her anymore.”

It cannot be determined exactly whether the resignation has to do with power structures at the management level or with Kurschu’s statements on unpleasant topics within the Protestant Church. However, the ex-council chairwoman was very clear about the topic Dealing with anti-Semitism expressed in the Christian churches – immediately after the brutal attack by the terrorist militia Hamas on Israel and the increasing anti-Semitism in Germany. She also has a clear stance on accepting migrants in Germany and criticized the federal government’s course.

Joint statement in mid-December

“She has increasingly grown into her role as EKD council chairwoman,” says Dabrock. As a consequence of her resignation, the lawyer Michael Bertrams also announced his withdrawal from church leadership. Kurschus “fell victim to an unjustified withdrawal of trust, combined with a frightening lack of love and coldness at the top of the EKD,” he quotes Cologne City Gazette him.

The deputy council chairwoman, Bishop Kirsten Fehrs, takes over the office on an interim basis. She will soon have to publicly address the issue of dealing with sexual abuse in the Protestant Church. Since 2019, the Evangelical Church has been working on a “Joint Declaration” on independent structures for processing in order to provide information and help for those affected. This declaration will be signed on December 13th by the abuse commissioner Claus, the EKD and the Diakonie. Such a declaration already exists with the Catholic Church. Not yet with the Protestant Church.

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