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For some time now, a previously unpublished report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Cologne has been causing a stir. In the Christmas mass Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki asked for forgiveness. What preceded it?
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki asked for forgiveness for "what those affected by sexual violence and you had to endure in the last days and weeks before Christmas in connection with the handling of the expert opinion on coming to terms with sexualized violence in our archdiocese, what they had to endure in terms of criticism about it and especially also in terms of criticism of me personally".
A chronology of important stages of the debate:
25. September 2018: The German Bishops' Conference presents a nationwide study on abuse of minors by Catholic clergy without naming names. In church files from 1946 to 2014, the authors found evidence of nationwide 3.677 victims of sexual assault and 1.670 accused priests, deacons and religious. In the Archdiocese of Cologne, they list at least 135 affected and 87 accused priests.
13. December 2018: Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne commissions the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) to examine in an expert opinion whether those responsible for the diocese acted in accordance with church and state law in cases of abuse and whether their actions were in keeping with the church's self-image. Violations of the law and those responsible for them should be named as concretely as possible.
10. March 2020: The archdiocese says the for the 12. Presentation of the report planned for March 2020 unexpectedly canceled. The planned naming of responsible persons must still be secured "in terms of the law of expression". Fears legal disputes with former or active decision-makers.
23. September 2020: Accusations against Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hebe become known, according to which he is alleged to have covered up cases of abuse during his time as head of personnel in the Archdiocese of Cologne. The "Zeit" supplement "ChristWelt" publishes parts of the WSW report in which Hebe is accused of an "indifferent" and "attitude toward victims marked by a lack of awareness of the problem". Hebe rejects the accusations.
14. October 2020: The "Bild" newspaper again raises cover-up allegations against Hebe, which he also denies. It's about parish priest U., Who is alleged to have repeatedly committed sexual assaults on his nieces, who were between 6 and 13 years old, between 1993 and 1999. In the summer of 2020, the public prosecutor's office in Cologne had charged the clergyman.
30. October 2020: The Archdiocese of Cologne says that the WSW expert opinion will not be made public to the. It refers to other experts such as the Cologne criminal lawyer Bjorn Gercke, according to which the investigation contains "methodological deficiencies". Gercke gets the order for a new expert opinion, which is to be published at the latest on 18. to be published on March 2021.
9. November 2020: Once again, "Bild" accuses Archbishop Hebe of misconduct. This time it is about the priest A., who, despite two convictions for child abuse, later worked again as a pastor in the dioceses of Munster, Cologne and Essen. In 2008, Hebe is said to have been informed about a suspicion he had become aware of against A. did not inform the abuse commissioner of the archdiocese of Cologne. Hebe claims to have reported very well.
12. November 2020: WSW law firm publishes abuse report for Aachen diocese. It incriminates, among others, former bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff (80) and his former vicar general Manfred von Holtum (76) and certifies them an "undeserved leniency" towards clergymen suspected and convicted of abuse.
18. November 2020: In a newspaper article, Patrick Bauer and Karl Haucke, spokespersons for the victims' advisory council in the Archdiocese of Cologne, who have since resigned, accuse Woelki of "renewed abuse of victims of abuse". The board's approval of the canceled publication of the WSW expert report had come under prere and the council had been "completely overrun".
20. November 2020Hebe informs the Roman Congregation of Bishops about the accusations against his person. Vatican to decide on his future as Hamburg archbishop after publication of Cologne study. He suspends his office as clerical assistant to the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) until the allegations are clarified.
26. November 2020: A WSW special report on the convicted abuser A, previously withheld by the Archdiocese of Cologne. reaches the public. The "Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger" publishes the expert opinion.
28. November 2020: Cardinal Woelki and Vicar General Hofmann announce they will make the WSW report available to individuals. It should be open to affected people or journalists "to the extent legally possible" when the Gercke report is completed in March. At the same time, they announce plans to establish an independent commission to address the abuse cases.
2. December 2020: A research team led by historian Thomas Grobbolting publishes first results of an abuse study on the Munster diocese. It attests to the late bishops Joseph Hoffner, Heinrich Tenhumberg and Reinhard Lettmann "massive failure of leadership and control". According to Grobbolting, his approach is based on that of the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl.
9. December 2020: Another case of abuse from the WSW report becomes public. According to media reports, the now 73-year-old retired clergyman and religious education author F. in the 80s for the first time to have become conspicuous. Former Cardinal Joachim Meisner and his vicar general, now auxiliary bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp, allegedly did not impose the prescribed sanctions on the clergyman.
10. December 2020: The "Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger" publishes the abuse case of priest O. and raises accusations against Cardinal Woelki. He reportedly learned of the case shortly after taking office as archbishop in 2014 but did not report it to Rome. O. is said to have abused a boy of kindergarten age in the 70s.
16. December 2020: The archdiocese confirms that the person concerned has contacted Woelki. In the meantime, there had also been a conversation between him and the cardinal. There are no further details on the contents.
24./25. December 2020: Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki comments at Christmas Mass on the behavior of the archdiocese in dealing with abuse cases. In a personal word, he asks those affected by abuse as well as Catholics in the archdiocese for forgiveness for the irritations that have arisen in recent weeks. "To the worries that you all already have because of Corona, we have, I'm afraid, added another burden."At the same time, he appeals for patience in view of the further steps to be taken to come to terms with the case.