Questions & Answers regarding the article “Gut und Böse” in the ZEIT supplement “Christ&Welt”

1. How did the newspaper come into possession of the letter?
We do not know. The letter is from 2010. It was addressed to the Vatican and several German dioceses.

2. Was the letter known to ACN?
The letter was in the archives of the organisation.

3. In which context was the letter written?
From 2009 to 20011 Auxiliary Bishop Mandred Grothe carried out a visitation of „Kirche in Not“. Fr. Werenfried, who had already died in 2003, was not the object of the visitation. Rather it solely focussed on the organisational modernisation of the organisation with a modernization of the charity. This was carried out on behalf of the Congregation for the Clergy that was responsible for the charity. During this time a number of people tried to start a beatification process for Fr. van Straaten. It was in this context that Auxiliary Bishop Grohe learned of the serious allegations against Fr. van Straaten. He  wanted with his letter to immediately put a stop to any possible beatification process.

4. What is ACN’s opinion of the allegations?

Aid to the Church in Need deeply regrets the grave allegations that have been made. The organisation completely condemns the kind of behaviour of which Father van Straaten is accused in the article. ACN is committed to an unreserved clarification. We have examined the allegations from the sources currently available and have taken a position on the following points raised

5. Werenfried has been accused of a sexual assault: is that true?

The accusation constitutes an extremely grave case. It concerns a serious sexual assault that is supposed to have taken place in 1973. As Fr. van Straaten had died seven years before the accusation was made, it was no longer possible to have a comment about the alleged deed that was supposed to have taken place 37 years earlier. According to the documents we have available, there was no knowledge of any accusations against Fr. van Straaten of a sexual abuse nature.

6. How old was the person concerned at the time of the incident.

The person concerned was 23 years old at the time.

7. How did Fr. van Straaten know the person concerned?
At the time she was working for the charity.

8. When did ACN learn about the incident?

The charity learned about it in 2010 – seven years after the death of Fr. van Straaten – when the person concerned reported the incident.

9. How did ACN react to the accusation?
The leadership of the charity took the accusation very seriously. It immediately sought out the person concerned and in a personal meeting listened to her. Her portrayal of the incident seemed very plausible. Consequently, the charity declared its willingness to pay a solidarity payment in order to underline its desire to recognize the suffering of the person concerned and to try to mitigate the consequences of the incident for this person.

10. Which civil and ecclesial authorities were informed?

As soon as the accusation became known, Aid to the Church in Need informed the Congregation for the Clergy and the President of the German Bishops‘ Conference about the allegations. The bishop of the diocese of the person concerned as well as the responsible for the Premonstratensian Order were also informed of the accusations. The launch of criminal proceedings did not take place due to the fact that Fr. van Straaten had already died in 2003.

11. Did ACN pay compensation to the person concerned?

The portrayal of the incident by the person concerned seemed very plausible to the leadership of the charity. There were no other indications, documents or witness statements. At the time, ACN paid the affected person compensation totalling €16,000: €10,000 in an attempt to acknowledge the suffering she had experienced and €6,000 to meet pension claims from the affected person’s prior employment in Aid to the Church in Need.

12. If ACN paid money to the person concerned, is that not a sign of acceptance of guilt? Potential victims are rightly paid financial assistance if the facts of the crime appear credible after an examination, even if there is no further clear evidence and the accused can no longer be questioned. Most sexual offences take place without witnesses, so the possibilities of legal evidence are often lacking.

13. Was there not already previously a payment to the family of the person concerned?

According to files in the archives,  we can assume that in 1996/1997 Fr. van Straaten gave money to the father of the person concerned. The father of this person denied in writing in 2011 that this payment had anything to do with a sexual assault on his daughter. Rather it was a compensation for his unfair treatment by Fr. van Straaten when he left his job with ACN.

14. Why did ACN not go public immediately after learning about the allegation of sexual assault?
The person concerned expressed a clear wish for the confidential handling of the accusation. There was also the concern to prevent damage to the reputation of the charity and to harm the project work.

15. Was the accusation concealed in order to protect the image of Fr. van Straaten?

The accusation was made seven years after the death of Fr. van Straaten. When ACN learned about the incident in the autumn of 2010, the charity immediately contacted the family concerned in order to investigate the accusation without delay. A representative of the charity and then Bishop Grothe reacted with full respect for the pain of the person concerned after she described the proceedings in a plausible way. The newly appointed Executive President at that time visited the family in 2011 after being informed of the facts of the incident. He decided that a sum of 16.000 EUR should be paid in recognition of the pain of the person concerned. Research has not been concluded yet. At the same time, personality right of all the persons concerned is to be respected..

16. Are further accusations of sexual misconduct by Fr. van Straaten known?

So far, either from documents available or from other sources, there are no indications of further accusations of sexual misconduct by Fr. van Straaten. In 2016 ACN initiated a comprehensive search of the archives of the Congregation for the Clergy. There was no evidence found to suggest further sexual crimes or sexual assaults on the part of Fr. van Straaten.

17. Was Fr. van Straaten a supporter of fascism?

In his writings during the 55 years in which he lead the charity (1947-2003) there is no indication of far-right or fascist leanings. On the contrary, Fr. van Straaten condemned all dictatorships and took a strong stance against them.

18. What can be said about the accusation of excesses in his personal lifestyle?
The accusation of excesses in his personal lifestyle is based on individual reports of an excess of alcohol or food. We cannot confirm this accusation from the information available to us.

19. Is it true that Fr. van Straaten showed deficits in the leadership of the charity? Father van Straaten founded the charity in 1947 and led it for 55 years until his death in 2003. During this period, there were various conflicts and disputes with staff members. The management style at that time certainly did not correspond to today’s understanding of modern personnel management. The introduction of new management and control bodies, as well as the emphasis on an appreciative work culture, was an important development after the completion of the visitation that took place in 2011.

20. Why did a Papal visitation take place in ACN between 2009 and 2011?

The Papal visitation (2009-2011) was mandated to initiate the organisational modernisation of the organisation in order to continue to effectively pursue its mission of supporting suffering and persecuted Christians.

 21. Had the visitation anything to do with the person of Fr. van Straaten?

The visitation was in no way related to the person of Father van Straaten. He had already been dead for six years at the beginning of the visitation. The visitation was exclusively aimed at modernising the charity.

22. Why did Pope Benedict XVI re-establish ACN in 2011 as a Pontifical Foundation?

The result of the Papal visitation was a reorganisation and restructuring of the co-operation between the national offices and the headquarters in Königstein, Germany. Numerous consequences were drawn from the detailed final report of the visitation, above all the legal re-establishment as a Pontifical foundation,  the revision of the statutes, the introduction of new management and control bodies, and since 2019 the establishment of safeguarding for the prevention of sexual abuse as a priority of the organisation both internally and in the decision making process for project funding.

23. After the allegations came to light, did ACN draw any consequences regarding Father van Straaten’s importance within the charity?

ACN has revised all organisational areas since 2011. Father van Straaten now has his place in the presentation of the history of the charity as the person of the founder. The focus of the work today is exclusively on the situation of Christians in need worldwide and their support through the charity.

24. Does ACN regret the alleged incidences?
ACN deeply regrets the serious allegations and condems any kind of bevahiour of which Father van Straaten has been accused in the article. Since 2011, decision-making and control structures have been put in place to avoid misconduct, abuse and to foster a collegial working culture.

25. What is Aid to the Church in Need’s position today regarding a possible beatification process of Fr. van Straaten?

Aid to the Church in Need, as a Pontifical Foundation, has never engaged in such a process and has no  interest in pursuing this in the future.

26. What is ACN doing today to ensure that such misconduct is not repeated?

The Papal Visitation from 2009 to 2011 had the mandate to initiate the organisational modernisation of the charity. The result of the Papal visitation was the revision of all areas of the organisation, as well as the legal re-establishment as a Pontifical foundation, the revision of the statutes, the introduction of new management and control bodies. In particular, the establishment since 2019 of “Safeguarding Guidelines” for the prevention of sexual abuse as a priority for the ACN, both internally and in project funding, should be highlighted.

Within this framework, regulations and processes have been developed and introduced to ensure this, see: Safeguarding Guidelines

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