Abbess may face landmark trial for refusing to pay fine

A Benedictine abbess who granted refuge to female asylum-seekers faces trial for refusing to pay a fine.

The trial could become a landmark case for deciding if granting church asylum amounts to the offense of “aiding and abetting illegal residents,” as interpreted by German state prosecutors.

Mother Mechthild Thurmer granted refuge to female asylum-seekers in her Bavarian monastery more than 30 times.

The main Court hearing was canceled in mid-July because the judge wanted to wait for further charges to be made against her.

“I acted out of Christian spirit,” the Benedictine abbess says.“To give concrete help to a person in need can’t be a crime.”

Until now, Bavarian authorities have generally dropped proceedings against people granting church asylum and imposed no penalties.

Occasionally they offered to close cases in exchange for a fine, although this did not amount to an acquittal.

Franz Bethauser, who is representing Mechthild, wants the justice system to clarify the issue thereby giving people legal certainty.

The Court hearing will not be just about Mechthild. Rather, it is also about whether an agreement between the churches and the government on church asylum made in 2015 still stands.

Under that agreement, authorities tolerate asylum while the asylum-seeker’s individual application is examined. The only proviso is, that the asylum seeker is not hidden.

In 2018 the Freising district court ruled that as long as the state does not enforce an asylum-seeker’s obligation to leave the country, church asylum cannot be punishable.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann urged the police and immigration authorities to stick to this line and not to deport refugees directly from church care.

At present, asylum-seekers and their hosts have no legal claim, nor have they any final security in the matter.


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