Historical documents on the shelf of a diocesan archive © Julia Steinbrecht (KNA)
Archdiocese of Cologne presents legal opinion Thursday on diocese's handling of sexualized violence by church staff. Archbishop Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki will receive the report from the authors.
The investigation into cases from 1975 to 2018 focuses on how diocesan officials dealt with sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults by priests and church personnel. According to the information, the expert opinion is based on personnel files, documents and conversations with officials.
The expert's report, which will be handed out on Thursday to Woelki as well as to the advisory board of those affected and made available to the interested public, should lead to personnel consequences depending on the results. First consultation results and possible consequences from the investigation want to Archbishop Woelki in the coming week, on 23. March, communicate. From 25. March is in addition in the archiepiscopal conference house a further, before with another Kanzlei in order-placed and so far unpublished appraisal for interested ones to lie out. For this a pre-registration is necessary. The Archdiocese of Cologne and our site will broadcast the press conference on Thursday at 10.00 o'clock live.
Postponed, cancelled, newly prepared
Those affected, the faithful and employees in the diocese, as well as the general public, had to wait around a year for the publication of an expert opinion on the Archbishopric of Cologne. The presentation of possible deficits or violations of church law and official duties in dealing with abuse cases, originally announced for March 2020, was first postponed and then canceled. The cooperation with the originally commissioned law firm was terminated, a new law firm was commissioned.
Concerns regarding the right of expression
The archbishop had justified his decision not to publish the expert opinion, which had initially been commissioned from the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, with evaluations by other lawyers and law firms. These had urged expression-legal doubts and referred among other things to possible complaints of functionaries mentioned by name. Qualitative and methodological deficiencies in the reappraisal were also criticized. The Munich law firm, which was and is also active for other dioceses in dealing with abuse, had repeatedly contradicted the criticism. Since the fall of 2020, the Cologne law firm Gercke and Wollschlager prepared a new independent expert opinion.
The archbishop's decision and also his handling of criticism from society, the priesthood and parishes caused criticism and opposition. In addition, the archdiocese had to deal with accusations of cover-up in addition to accusations of lack of transparency and procrastination.
Expert opinion already handed over to the public prosecutor's office
Meanwhile, criminal lawyer Bjorn Gercke has already handed over the legal opinion on the responsibility of bishops, vicars general and other executives in the abuse scandal in the Cologne archdiocese to the Cologne public prosecutor's office. He had forwarded the expert opinion before the publication announced for today, Thursday, said Gercke on Monday evening in the WDR local time from Cologne. Already during the investigation phase in the past months there had been a constant exchange with the prosecution authority.
The public prosecutor's office had already received an interim report some time ago. The previously unpublished expert opinion of the Munich criminal law firm, which the archdiocese had withdrawn from the mandate because of alleged methodological errors, is also available to the Cologne public prosecutor's office. Cologne Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki will receive the expert opinion at the same time as the public, Gercke said on WDR.