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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
German Catholics to compensate Nazi victims
Cologne Cathedral
The Catholic Church is shunning the main compensation fund
By Patrick Bartlett in Frankfurt

Germany's Roman Catholic Church has said it will pay almost $5m in compensation for its role in Nazi-era forced labour schemes.

The church has admitted that during World War II up to 1,500 people were forced to work for the church.

But, meeting in the city of Wuerzburg, Catholic bishops decided not to contribute to compensation funds set up jointly by the German Government and business. Instead, payments will be made direct to survivors.

Germany's Catholic bishops spent most of Monday debating the delicate question of how to atone for the church's use of Nazi-era forced labourers.

Bishop Lehmann
Bishop Lehmann says survivors will be paid directly
Conference chairman Bishop Karl Lehmann said the church had decided not to contribute to the $5bn fund already set up by the German Government and industry.

He said forced labourers employed by the Catholic Church were not covered by it.

Labourers, 'not slaves'

The church says there is no evidence that any of its labourers were concentration camp inmates - so-called slave workers - subject to the most brutal treatment.

Instead, most were either drafted in from German-occupied central Europe or were prisoners-of-war. They were mostly employed in church, agricultural or hospital work.

Bishop Lehmann said payments to the victims would be made through different charities. Half of the 10-million-mark ($4.6m) church fund will go to projects to promote reconciliation.

The Catholic bishops' decision to go it alone contrasts with that of the Lutheran Protestant Church. It agreed in July to join the industry-led compensation fund.

Under that scheme, about one million surviving Nazi-era forced labourers will receive an average of $4,500 each.

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