Germany's Protestant church leader resigns, denies covering up sex abuse

Annette Kurschus speaks at a press conference on Nov. 20, 2023.
Annette Kurschus speaks at a press conference on Nov. 20, 2023. | YouTube/Evangelische Kirche von Westfalen

The head of a church body representing 20 million Protestants in Germany has resigned following allegations she neglected to take action against a man who was accused of abuse more than two decades ago.

Annette Kurschus, the leader of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD), Germany's umbrella organization for Protestant churches, resigned on Monday, according to an announcement

She was accused of inadequately responding to the allegations against a colleague. Kurschus denied knowledge of the abuse but announced her resignation after it was revealed the former church worker is currently under criminal investigation.

"[I]n the last few days, events have accelerated. What was initially a purely local and regional matter became a case of nationwide importance," Kurschus said in a statement. "In the meantime, the situation has become so serious that there is only one consequence for me to prevent damage to my church: I am resigning from both church leadership positions."

EKD is a communion of 20 regional churches in Germany spanning Lutheran, Reformed or United confessions.

"I respect the step of resigning from all positions, with which Annette Kurschus shows the importance of consistent action on the issue of sexualized violence — especially in the interest of those affected — for the Protestant Church," said EKD Synod President Anna-Nicole Heinrich said. 

The allegations reportedly involve a local vicar in the church district of Siegen, located in western Germany, who is accused of "sexually inappropriate conducted toward other men" over a period of decades.

The local Siegener Zeitung newspaper cited two men who claimed they submitted evidence under oath and reported that Kurschus, 60, knew about the accusations "in detail" as early as the 1990s, according to Deutsche Welle.

In her resignation announcement Monday, Kurchus denied any deliberate effort to cover up the allegations or mislead the public.

"This is all the more bitter because I never — and I emphasize this expressly! — was never about shirking my own responsibility, withholding important facts, covering up facts or even covering up for an accused," she said. 

"In the meantime, the question of my credibility has developed such a dynamic of its own publicly that an absurd and damaging shift has occurred: instead of being about those affected and their protection, for days now it has been exclusively about me personally. This has to finally stop. It draws attention away from those affected and from clarifying the injustice that was done to them. This is what enlightenment is all about. This clarification should be the focus."

Kurschus' resignation comes at a delicate moment in the German Protestant church, which is reeling from steadily declining attendance numbers despite having largely avoided the same wave of a sexual assault claims leveled against the Catholic Church in Germany.

A 2018 study by the German Bishops' Conference found more than 1,600 Catholic clergymen were alleged to have been involved in "some form of sexual attack" against more than 3,600 minors in the years between 1946 and 2014, though analysts believe the actual number of victims is significantly higher.

The Diocese in Cologne released an 800-page report in 2021 that detailed over 200 alleged sexual assault perpetrators and more than 300 victims dating back to 1975. Over half of whom were under 14. 

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