Head of Germany’s Lutheran church resigns in protest over claims she failed to act on abuse

Resignation of Annette Kurschus rocks Germany’s mainstream Protestant church as study confirms membership collapse

The head of Germany’s Lutheran church federation (EKD) has resigned in protest over claims she was aware of – but failed to act against – a church colleague accused of abusing young men 25 years ago.

The resignation of Annette Kurschus has rocked Germany’s mainstream Protestant church as a new study confirms an exponential collapse in membership under way.

A separate report, due in January, is expected to show a pattern of silence and cover-up of child sexual abuse cases in the EKD churches.

Dr Kurschus has been head of the Lutheran church in Westphalia since 2011, and two years ago was elected president of the EKD council. For months the 60-year-old theologian and pastor has faced claims that in the 1990s she was told by two friends in their hometown of Siegen about a man working in the church who was a sexual abuser. Local prosecutors have investigated but decided not to pursue the case. Instead it has been taken up by a local newspaper with coverage Dr Kurschus characterised on Monday as based on “insinuation and speculation”.


She insisted she had never worked with the accused man but was friendly with his family. She told journalists she was “at peace” that she acted “to the best of my knowledge and belief at all times”.

“However I wish I was as aware, sensitive and educated 25 years ago for certain patterns of behaviour that would alarm me now,” she said.

Dr Kurschus said the case had taken on its own dynamic with an “absurd and damaging” shift of media attention on to her person that was damaging to the church and distracted from the necessary focus on abuse survivors.

Other EKD leaders welcomed as “consequential” Ms Kurschus’s departure after a debate which has focused attention on growing existential threats to the church – not least by belated investigation of sexual abuse in its ranks.

Last week an EKD-commissioned study indicated that Germany – the homeland of the Reformation – now has more Catholics than Protestants – 25 per cent to 23 per cent respectively. Taken together registered Protestants and Catholics are now in a minority, while 43 per cent describe themselves as non-denominational.

Just 13 per cent describe themselves as “church-religious”, 25 per cent as “religious-distanced” and 56 per cent as “secular”. One third of the secular Germans are, on paper at least, Christian church members.

Looking ahead the study forecasts a continued departure of members from Germany’s two mainstream Christian churches, meaning they will have halved in size by 2040.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin