The council chairwoman of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Kurschus, has announced her resignation from all positions. She is accused of having covered up a case of sexually assaultive behavior as a former parish priest in Siegen.
A big bang for Germany’s top Protestant: Annette Kurschus resigns as council chairwoman of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). She is also resigning from her position as President of the Evangelical Church of Westphalia. Kurschus said this at a press conference in Bielefeld.
Both positions involve a high level of publicity, she explained. “But the public’s trust in me has been damaged,” said the 60-year-old. The decision was not easy for her. But due to the loss of trust, she was no longer able to advance awareness of the issue of sexual violence in the Evangelical Church.
Investigations by the Public prosecutor
Criticism of the EKD chairwoman, who represents 20 million Protestant Christians, had grown in recent days. The Siegen public prosecutor’s office is investigating several suspected cases against a former church employee who, like Kurschus, worked in the Siegen church district in the 1990s. The accused is said to have sexually harassed young men for years.
According to research by the “Siegener Zeitung”, Kurschus, as a parish priest in Siegen, is said to have been aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against the church employee at the end of the 1990s, but did not report them. The newspaper quoted the statement of two men who claimed to have informed Kurschus in detail about the allegations of abuse. Both confirmed their statements with affidavits.
EKD Council Presidency
The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) is the umbrella organization of the 20 Lutheran, Reformed and United Protestant regional churches. It represents around 19.2 million Protestant Christians in the Federal Republic. The EKD is led by a council of 15 members, headed by a council chairperson. He or she is elected for six years and represents the Protestant church in public. The election is carried out by the 128-member church parliament, the EKD synod, and the church conference, in which the 20 regional churches are represented.
The resignation of Annette Kurschus is the third in the history of the EKD since 1948. The Hanover regional bishop Margot Käßmann resigned from the office in 2010 after driving under the influence of alcohol at the wheel of her company car. She was at the head of the EKD for only three months. Her successor, the Rhenish President Nikolaus Schneider, resigned in 2014 to care for his wife Anne, who was suffering from cancer
Those affected demanded resignation
Detlev Zander, one of the speakers in the EKD’s Sexual Violence Participation Forum, called for Kurschus’ resignation at the weekend. “Her salami tactics, in that she only comments on this in bits and pieces, is harmful to everyone who seriously tries to educate the Protestant Church,” Zander told the “Spiegel” and added: “Those affected are extremely angry.”
In her statement today, Kurschus once again rejected the claim that she had covered up something at the time: “I was the only one who noticed homosexuality and marital infidelity on the part of the accused.” At the beginning of 2023, an anonymous complaint was received against the accused. “I had no prior knowledge of any acts of sexual violence committed by this person,” she emphasized. “I’m at peace with myself about this,” said the 60-year-old. “I acted to the best of my knowledge and belief at all times.” In the meantime, however, the public debate about the matter has become so heated that she sees no alternative to resignation.
Poor communication, lack of trust
The NDR-Journalist Florian Breitmeier, head of the religion and society editorial team, said on tagesschau24, the handling of the entire case was not necessarily a happy one. “A strategy should have been developed much earlier on how to communicate that this case exists.” Kurschus also apparently lacked support in the management committee. “There was no statement from the EKD council, for example, expressing confidence in her.” The Westphalian regional church did this.
Nevertheless, Kurschus showed little self-criticism during her appearance. “She doesn’t say: ‘I made big mistakes or had to communicate differently’, but she speaks of a scandal that has been created,” says Breitmeier.
Those affected by sexual abuse or their relatives were apparently not well integrated. After they brought the allegations to the attention of the regional church at the beginning of the year, an intervention team was founded and the public prosecutor’s office was also called in. “Nevertheless, those affected must have had the feeling for months that nothing was happening, so they then went to the press. And the press has to create publicity – that’s their job,” said Breitmeier.
Second woman to give up chairmanship early
Kurschus has been president and therefore leading clergyman of the Evangelical Church of Westphalia since 2012. In 2021 she was also elected to the top of the EKD Council. The EKD represents 20 regional churches with around 13,000 parishes. After Margot Käßmann, Kurschus is the second woman at the top of the EKD to give up her leading church positions early. Käßmann resigned as council chairwoman and Hanover regional bishop in February 2010 after she drove a car while under the influence of alcohol and was stopped by the police.
Representatives of the Protestant Church thanked Kurschus for her work so far. The President of the EKD Synod, Anna-Nicole Heinrich, expressed the hope that Kurschus’ decision would now create the necessary space to deal with how she dealt with a case of sexually assaultive misconduct. Hamburg Bishop Kerstin Fehrs, who has temporarily taken over the presidency of the EKD Council, expressed her respect for Kurschus’ decision to resign. “This directness and consistency has also shaped our cooperation on the EKD Council.”
The chairman of the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, expressed his regret about the resignation. As a result, “the ecumenical engine in our country is losing an essential drive,” said Bätzing. “I am grateful for the time in which we shared ecumenical responsibility in Germany.”
The post first appeared on www.tagesschau.de