Wednesday, 31 March 2010

German Catholics launch helpline for abuse victims




 It is seldom that I can just get on my bike and go to a press conference, but this one in Trier yesterday was a welcome change! 

Trier, Germany (ENI). The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has launched an official telephone hotline for victims of sexual abuse in its institutions.

At a press conference in Trier, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the German Bishops' Conference said on 30 March the helpline will be staffed by psychologists and social workers from the diocese of Trier.

Ackermann was appointed in February by the German bishops to handle mounting allegations of abuse in Germany's Catholic Church.

The crisis began when a school in Berlin run by the Jesuit order announced in January that there had been systematic abuse of pupils by three priests in the 1970s and 1980s. After the school had appointed a lawyer, it appealed for victims of abuse to come forward.

Soon it emerged that the priests involved also worked at other church-run schools and the problem grew. The scandal has so far affected most German dioceses.

Ackermann looked distressed when he told journalists, "I have in the past weeks had to read shocking examples and learned how strongly such an experience influences the life of every person." He said even long after they have happened, the occurrences have "really destructive traits".

Ackermann said, "Victims can now get a chance to come forward and report what they have kept silent about for decades because of shame." The bishop noted, "I have read many emails in the last weeks where victims have in detail portrayed their abuse and the after effects, and I must tell you honestly that I can only read that in small doses. It is shocking and one cannot just read it like regular post."

On 29 March Ackermann announced that 20 priests have been embroiled in cases of sexual abuse in his diocese between 1950 and 1990. He said although he was shocked by the number involved, "It is the reports of the victims that really upsets me and shocks me."

Asked whether the church was guilty of a cover-up, Ackermann said, "Those in church positions who did not clear up the problem, although they could have and should have, are of course guilty [of covering up]."

The bishop repeated an appeal to perpetrators of sexual abuse to admit their deeds, saying, "Only then will a way be possible to get to the truth and reconciliation."

The helpline should serve as a "door opener" for victims, said Andreas Zimmer, who runs the Counselling Services in the diocese of Trier. After an initial conversation with victims and listening to their wishes on what further action should be taken, they will be passed on to other professional counselling services in their own dioceses. "We (as the Church) have an obligation to fulfil," he said. 
 (c) Anli Serfontein 2010

Zimmer said they chose "experienced counselling staff [psychologists or social workers] with many years of professional experience, who are highly qualified to deal with traumatised people and are competent in the field of sexual violence".

A spokesperson for the movement We are Church, Christian Weisner, told Ecumenical News International he thought that a service operating three days, and afternoons-only will not be enough for a country-wide helpline.

"It can only be a beginning," Weisner told ENI. "It is a step in the right direction, but should have been done in 2002 already. It is too little, too late."

We are Church has run a telephone helpline for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy since 2002 when the Catholic sexual abuse scandal broke in the United States. So far 400 victims have called in, 90 in the last two months.

Weisner said that questions around the cause of the sexual abuse in church institutions will be debated for a long time. His organization has called for the policy of mandatory celibacy of Catholic clergy to be abolished.



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Sunday, 21 March 2010

Books, people, publishers and blisters



The annual Leipzig Book Fair is truly a people's book festival and in stark contrast to the Frankfurt Book Fair which is all about deals.

Ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented his book printing machine (I visited the museum two years ago in Mainz), Germany has been the centre of the publishing trade.



From 1632 to 1945 Leipzig was the biggest book fair in Germany and in Europe. However after the divide of Europe and Germany into East and West after the Second World War in 1945, the festival continued in East Germany. It was however was overtaken in importance by Frankfurt.



This get-together of the publishing and media sectors with writers, readers and publishers has an invigorating air about it. In the hustle bustle of some spring sunshine the famous mix with booksellers, readers, plebs and wannabe authors like myself.

Nobel Prize Laureates Günter Grass and Hertha Müller were walking around being interviewed and talking to people, as was South African author Deon Meyer.

One hall is mainly for comics and cartoons and many young readers come dressed as their favourite manga figures.


Leipzig is Europe’s biggest Reader’s Festival with nearly 2,000 author events during the four days in 350 venues spread through the city. Over 2,000 publishers from about 35 countries display their books and authors here.



My book Basteln, Wandern and Putzen: From South Africa to Trier published in 2008 in Vito von Eichborn’s Edition BoD was again on display at my publisher’s stand in Hall 3. I was grateful for the welcome cup of coffee offered, while quickly catching up, taking a few pics and moving on.
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I concentrated mainly on two halls - Halls 3 and 4 - looking at trends, new publications, making new contacts and having interesting conversations. Unlike Frankfurt it is so much easier to talk to the publishing industry here.
With my second manuscript now finished, it is time again to look for a publisher, while the translation rights of Basteln, Wandern and Putzen, are still being discussed. For someone as impatient as me, the cogs of this business moves very slowly.

I enjoyed the Fair much more than in 2008 - it was less overwhelming. And next year I will make sure I spend more time there; one day is far too short. And as we nurtured our blistered feet, next year it will be flat tackies (sneakers). (Or a wheel chair) Smart and comfortable are mutually exclusive!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Latter-day Latin Lamentations

There I stood this week at the grave of Erasmus of Rotterdam in the Basel Münster at a loss to read the inscription in the lingua franca of Europe. Albeit the lingua franca of an earlier Europe, when a common written language prevailed - Latin. That was the world of this Dutch Renaissance humanist.

Coming from Africa I never saw the advantages of Latin as a subject. Moving from Jozi barely a century old to Germany’s oldest Roman town, a mere 2,000 years old , I was soon confronted by Latin.

In our area some secondary schools offer the option of pupils starting with Latin as their first foreign language when they, aged barely ten, start Gymnasium, the most academic of the three-tier secondary schools. Because numbers are low a lot of marketing goes into attracting pupils.My tri-lingual daughter was seen as a natural candidate.

„Latin is a dead language,“ I proclaimed loud enough for all to hear. Whereas the German intelligensia, in other words the professors, the architects, the doctors and lawyers were cajouling their reluctant offsprings to start with Latin, my kids started with French. My then 9-year old daughter duly reported my philistine views to the primary school headmistress, married to a top notch specialist.

„Mrs Fischer said Latin is not a dead language,“ she told me over lunch. „Oh and who speaks Latin?“ I retorted. „The Romans,“ came her quick answer. „And do you see any around here?“ I asked waving my arm around what used to be the Roman Zoo where they kept their wild animals, but where we now live, before readily supplying the answer, „No, we only have Roman ruins and dead Romans.“

So my children started with French – the only language they did not know. I scoffed at people who started off with Latin, as often in my experience teaching students, they were later in life very poor in speaking English. In my daughter’s class there were even pupils who started off with French and then took Latin, finishing school without any English at all, and this in this day and age.

I myself have learnt French and Portuguese without feeling a need for Latin and have dabbled in Spanish. But the German education system always catches up with us boorish halfwits from Africa.

And they eventually got my daughter. Any student studying for a Bachelor degree in either German or English in this country is obliged to have studied Latin. I always thought both are not classified as Roman languages. But my now student daughter explains, “Some Middle High German texts are only in Latin and the professors need to translate from those original texts.” For the three idiots who want to spend their lives in dark cellars translating those texts, it may be fine, but why punish everyone? And more effort seem to go into acquiring Latin, than Middle High German.

Studying German as a sub-major at Wits University all those many years ago, I managed in two short years to read Middle High German texts like the Nibelungenlied, read Faust One and Two, read Schiller and Goethe and novels from the Enlightenment to Expressionism. We read modern authors (well in 1979 they were modern) like Peter Handke, Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll. Now doing four hours of Latin a week, my student daughter seems to lack the vast knowledge of German literature, such as we acquired all those many years ago in southern Africa.

The same applies to English. I have now battled for a decade with incompetent English school teachers who marks what is right as wrong and often have absolutely no grasp of, or feel for the English language. It is rather different to Latin. They were most probably struggling with Latin, when they could have explored the vast literatures of the English language.

That probably explains why a professor of English here in Trier would in his introduction to World English literature tell students that Nadine Gordimer is a writer from the southern hemisphere (right), specifically from the New Zealand, Australia region (wrong). Did my learned friend ever open ONE of her books?

Our other South African Nobel Literature Prize winner, JM Coetzee, the only Commonwealth author ever to win the Booker Prize twice, no-one teaching English in Trier, ever seem to have heard of. And yes, Professor Doctor English, he actually lives in Adelaide in Australia these days.

PS As an afterthought, could anyone translate the Erasmus inscription for me.