German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday awarded two men with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for uncovering sexual abuse of children and youths in the Catholic Church.
Matthias Katsch und Pater Klaus Mertes received the order as part of a ceremony in Berlin, during which Steinmeier called for better protection of minors and consistent criminal prosecution of the perpetrators.
"It has to be prevented that the same perpetrator finds new victims in new places every time. Encouragement and talk about individual atonement is not sufficient," Steinmeier said.
"These cases can never again be treated as internal matters of the concerned institutions, not even of the churches," Steinmeier added.
Katsch and Mertes have been active in supporting the victims of sexual abuse and uncovering cases, for instance the scandals at Berlin's Canisius Kolleg, where pupils alleged they had been abused by Jesuits.
"With a lot of courage and persistence, they campaigned for uncovering and solving terrible crimes in our society," Steinmeier said. "They spoke up for the weakest of us, for children and youths that have been deeply hurt in body and soul, for those that have been forgotten and silenced long ago."
Steinmeier criticized the Church for covering up cases of abuse: "For decades, powerful institutions have spread a cloak of silence over thousands of cases of abuse. Children and youths who experienced abuse were often left alone and without support." The very institution that abused them were also their home, he added.
Steinmeier called for more action against sexual abuse, also in other institutions such as state or educational institutions, associations, sports and music clubs, and also in the family context, where sexual violence was most common.
"Although there are many initiatives that take ample action to uncover and process as well as improve the prevention, we have until now not succeeded in sustainably reducing the amount of sexual violence in childhood and youth," Steinmeier said.