It rumbles in the Archdiocese of Cologne, with about two million Catholics the largest diocese of Germany. The reason is the way in which the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, deals with an investigation into sexual abuse.
At the end of 2018, Cardinal Woelki asked a law firm from Munich to investigate how sexual abuse had been handled in his diocese. When that report was finished last autumn, the archdiocese did not want to publish it: mistakes were made in the investigation.
However, the Archdiocese immediately ordered a new investigation by another party. The results are expected on 18 March, but it is clear that there would be at least three hundred victims, and more than two hundred suspects.
This course of events has been shot in the wrong throat for both priests and parishioners. They think it is precisely when it comes to sexual abuse that the Catholic Church should be as transparent as possible. Anyone who keeps documents out of publicity with a reference to research errors loads the suspicion of wanting to cover up matters.
Several priests have written open letters to make this point. Catholics, meanwhile, are allowed to unsubscribe massively. In Germany, this has to be done through the courts.
Last Friday, when the court in Cologne set the dates for new online appointments for such an unsubscribe on the website, the server quickly crashed: about 5000 people wanted an appointment at the same time. Also in other German dioceses Catholics are more unsubscribing than usual.
In a video message that Cardinal Woelki recorded for Lent, he elaborates on the situation that has arisen. “There are deep cracks through the diocese,” he says. “And the lack of confidence is huge. I have made mistakes, both in terms of research and in crisis management.”
same time, he emphasises why this second report is so important: “To deal with cases of sexual abuse in our diocese correctly, I need facts that are correct.” However, he promises that on the day the second report is published, the first can also be seen.
The President of the German Bishops Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, calls things in Cologne “disastrous”. Together with his fellow bishops, Bätzing participates in the biannual meeting of the bishops conference this week, and ‘Cologne’ is also on the agenda.
“ I cannot intervene there,” says Bätzing. “I can only talk to Cardinal Woelki. He knows I think he should have made the first report public by now. However, Woelki is definitely different, and I think that for the moment there is nothing more to do than wait until 18 March.”