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Photo: Norbert Denef, First Communion 1958

Dear members and friends of netzwerkB,
dear supporting members of the printed media, radio and tv,
dear supporters in politics,

On 6 November 1993, I broke my silence at a gathering of my family of origin with my two perpetrators present.

20 years of trying to come to terms with all of this – time for new roads to be explored!

On 13 May 2013 I wrote the following letter to Pope Francis:

Act of Reconciliation – N. 555.086

Your Holiness,

I am writing to you today in regards to the letter of 27 April 2004 (Schreiben vom 27. April 2004) which I received from the state secretary, section 1 General Affairs, with the No. 555.086. This letter was an answer by Pope John Paul II to my letter of 9 December 2003 (Schreiben vom 9. Dezember 2003). Today I would like to ask your holiness for an act of reconciliation.

I was sexually abused – between the ages 10 and 16 by a priest and then until I was 18 years old by a church organist of the Catholic community in Delitzsch, a town near Leipzig, Germany.

I kept silent for 35 years. Nobody knew anything about the abuse. Silence – out of fear, shame, and feelings of guilt. Silence, because I had no words for this.

Twenty years ago I finally broke this silence in the midst of my family of origin. Since then I have been ostrasized by my family of origin and the church community. I had offered to my church community that we work through and come to terms with these crimes together with the diocese of Magdeburg, but so far this offer has been rejected. The main culprit in these crimes that were committed over a long period of time is the diocese Magdeburg. It was them that reassigned the priest that was the perpetrator from one community to another even though they knew that he was abusing children and teenagers. The current bishop responsible for the diocese has so far never spoken with me – not a single word.

In my book ‘I was sexually abused’ (Buch „Ich wurde sexuell missbraucht“)I told my story in more detail. I have included a copy of the book with this letter. By now my personal story is publicly known. There has been extensive media coverage on it as well. (please see the following link:

In 2004 the diocese in Magdeburg tried to silence me again with a payment of 25,000 euros. I then implored Pope John Paul II in the above-mentioned letter to help me. He had somebody of his staff send me an answer in which I was told that I should pray for forgiveness. After receiving that letter I tried to commit suicide. The chapters in my book titled “The Pope is praying for me” and “I have no more hope” give an account of that.

The suicide attempt was not successful. After that I decided to use my life energy to work against this denial and concealment of sexualized violence. Today I am chairperson of the association netzwerkB (Netzwerk Betroffener von sexueller Gewalt e.V.), an association of survivors of sexualized violence. In this position I am representing the interests of the largest survivors’ association in Germany. As an organization we are also networking on an international level.

The foundation

It is my desire to create an institution that is campaigning against the concealment, the denial and the covering up of sexualized violence. It is my intention to create it as a non-profit foundation.

I myself was silent for 35 years and was not able to speak about the sexualized violence that I had suffered. Two fundamental insights are the result of my work:

  1. We humans become emotionally ill because we are raised in such a way that we do not become aware of what has been done to us.
  2. Humans suppress, deny and cover up, because they do not become aware.

The taboo that still surrounds the issue of sexualized violence represents a massive impediment towards coming to terms with the abuse that survivors have been subjected to and that has influenced their lives to a large degree.

The goal of the foundation is to help victims of sexualized violence break through this wall of silence. They cannot accomplish this without help – they need people who speak out publicly against the concealment, denial and the cover-up of sexualized violence. This requires a lot of courage and this courage needs to be supported. The foundation intends to do just that by awarding a prize to persons that have accomplished something extraordinary in helping victims of sexualized violence to break their silence. The foundation wants to support transparency, especially in environments where people work professionally with children and other people in situations of dependency – such as child care workers, teachers, clergy, doctors, psychotherapists, care takers, lawyers, judges, etc.- and where there is danger of covering up abuse in order to protect the institution out of a false sense of loyalty. This impedes the victims in a massive way in their efforts to come to terms with their trauma.

The diocese Magdeburg owes me 450,000 euros. I had requested this sum of money in a letter dated 14 February 2003 to the diocese (see enclosure s. Anlage). I intend to use this money as seed money for starting the foundation. It would be a great act of reconciliation if not only the diocese Magdeburg were to pay into this foundation, but if you – as the head of the Roman-Catholic Church – would do so as well. If you were to take a lead in this matter, and if you were to also ask political leaders and celebrities to do the same, an act of reconciliation could take place.

The entire world will find out that in the future people receive an award from this foundation for their commitment to campaigning against keeping the secret of sexualized violence silent. Survivors and their families – the families also suffer greatly from this – would get the recognition in society that they so desperately need for their survival.

Your Holiness,

I am sending this letter in copy to

  • All German bishops
  • Federal President Joachim Gauck
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel
  • Chairpersons of all parties in the German Bundestag

I am asking them to also participate in the creation of this foundation.

I am doing this in hopes of their succeeding in not only asking heads of corporations and other economic representatives, but also in convincing society as a whole to participate in this effort.

An act of reconciliation is so desperately needed, so that bridges can be built where right now there is no getting through.

It is so needed to break through the vicious cycle of victim-perpetrator-victim.

The foundation could be the beginning of a new path that we all could travel together in a manner that is free of violence and embraces peace.

With an expression of my highest regard

Norbert Denef

Chair, netzwerkB

Reactions to the letter:

For further information please contact:
netzwerkB – Netzwerk Betroffener von sexualisierter Gewalt e.V.
Telefon: +49 (0)4503 892782 oder +49 (0)160 2 131313

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