Germany's Jesuit order offers sexual abuse victims compensation of at least $6,500 each

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's Jesuits announced a plan Thursday to pay the victims of sexual abuse in the order's schools a "symbolic compensation" of at least euro5,000 ($6,500) each, saying the gesture is meant to be "financially painful" to the Roman Catholic organization.

The order has not yet made a final decision on the amount that will be offered to about 200 victims who were abused decades ago, spokesman Thomas Busch said.

But he confirmed remarks by the order's head, the Rev. Stefan Kiechle, who said in an interview with the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that compensation for the victims was likely to range from euro5,000 to euro25,000. A group representing the victims, however, asked for a higher compensation.

Kiechle told Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the order will not use donations or money from its social outfits to pay for the compensation, but that the monks will cut spending to make up the funds.

"Yes, atonement hurts and it has to do so, because otherwise we betray our duty to be on the victims' side," Kiechle was quoted as saying.

A spokesman for Eckiger Tisch, a group representing victims, welcomed the announcement but said the amount of compensation needed to be far greater.

"The compensation can not be guided by what seems bearable to the perpetrators, but they have to be oriented to what helps the victims," the spokesman, Matthias Katsch, told the AP.

In May, an investigation found that at least 205 former students claimed to have been sexually or otherwise abused in Jesuit schools in Germany, and 46 Jesuits and non-clerical staff at the schools have been accused of abuse or of knowing of such crimes without acting.

The allegations first emerged in January and triggered an abuse scandal involving Catholic priests that rocked the church in Germany — the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI.

The move by the Jesuits comes a few days ahead of Germany's Bishops Conference's annual fall meeting, putting pressure on the clerics, who have not yet agreed on how to compensate abuse victims.

Though the statute of limitations has passed for the Jesuit cases, Busch said the order wanted to acknowledge the victims' suffering.

"It's about a symbolic compensation because we think the damage cannot be recompensed financially," he told The Associated Press.

Busch declined to discuss the order's finances, and would not say how much of the order's annual budget could be affected by the compensation payments. "That is complicated. I can't tell you, but it will be financially painful," he said.

Busch said the outcome of the negotiations was open, but acknowledged that no result was likely to please all victims.

The order and Eckiger Tisch will meet for a new round of talks Saturday. Spokesman Katsch said the compensation should be "a high five-digit-figure," noting that abuse victims in Ireland for example received some euro70,000.

Even greater compensation still won't allow the victims to restart their lives, Katsch said, noting that most have had to live with their wounds for decades.

"That's like lingering pile of toxic waste in your life," Katsch said.