Two years on probation and a monetary fine: That's the latest court ruling in Germany on a church asylum case. A pastor had granted protection to a young, apparently well-integrated Iranian migrant. The clergyman might get pardoned.
On Monday (November 8), a Methodist pastor in Germany was sentenced to two years on probation and €1,500 in fees. That's according to the epd news agency citing a spokesperson from the district court in Bayreuth, a city in the German state of Bavaria.
The pastor's attorney told the epd that although the ruling was only a warning on bail -- a very rare sentence nowadays -- they were considering an appeal. The attorney said he was surprised by the "exotic" ruling as there were presently several church asylum trials at the highest Bavarian state court. He said the case was about church asylum being regarded as a punishable offense.
In case the ruling becomes legally binding, the pastor, whose name is Stefan Schörk, will be on probation for two years. In case Schörk doesn't commit a crime in those two years, the punishment will be waived. However, he'd still have to pay the €1,500.
Pastor 'disappointed' by ruling
Schörk expressed his disappointment directly after the verdict. He was sure he hadn't been acting unlawfully, he said, adding that he had declined several requests for church asylum over the years, Bavarian public broadcaster BR reported on Monday (November 9).
"When I look a human who shares his agony with me in the eye, I have to act. ... Every Sunday, I preach about charity and to love your enemies, so my actions need to reflect my words."
In January of this year, Schörk had granted ten days of church asylum to an Iranian. The asylum seeker, who according to epd was integrated in Germany and spoke fluent German, was to be separated from his mother and sister and deported to Greece, where he had first claimed asylum.
According to the so-called Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers have to lodge their asylum claims in the EU member state they first enter. They also have to be registered and undergo the asylum process in that country.
Series of court rulings on church asylum
A number of court rulings on church asylum cases in Germany in recent months have highlighted the legal risks clergywomen and clergymen take when offering refuge to asylum seekers.
- In October, a blind Syrian returned to church asylum after a court ruled that he could be sent back to Spain where he had first applied for protection.
- In June, a court charged a nun €500 for assisting Nigerian women who reportedly fled from forced prostitution in Italy and were threatened with deportation from Germany.
- In April, a court ruled in favor of a monk who had provided refuge in Bavaria to a man born in the Gaza Strip. The judges said the monk was protected by the freedom of faith and conscience laid out in the German constitution.
- Mother Mechthild, a Benedictine nun who has offered asylum to about 30 people since 2016, has twice been fined and even threatened with prison for "aiding and abetting an unauthorized stay" of an asylum seeker.
In January, Germany's asylum office eased its restrictions on church asylum. The introduced changes pertain to the time limits within which responsibility for an asylum seeker would move to Germany from other EU countries. The obstacles to church asylum had previously been so high that help for hardship cases was made nearly impossible.