"Better an end with horror than horror without an end," says city dean Kleine about the abuse reappraisal in the archdiocese of Cologne. In the interview he explains this statement and explains why he nevertheless continues to stand by the archbishop.
Interviewer: These are clear words that you choose in the interview the "Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger". How is then the resonance to it? Has there been any feedback from the parishes, from the associations, from your confreres?
Msgr. Robert Kleine (Cologne city and cathedral dean): Yes, there was a lot of feedback. Some negative voices, but a lot of supportive messages, e-mails or phone calls. Because one refers above all to the point that I said that the faithful, the confreres, the pastoral ministries, the full-time and voluntary workers, all those who are committed, are at the moment exposed to an immense burden, are torn, also because of the many departures. And they are asked: "What is going wrong with you?? Why are you still with the association??"That I then addressed this and said: "This must come to an end. We must look forward, after the 18.3. – and for that, this must be a good 18.3. be."I have received a lot of support and thanks for this.
Interviewer: The 18. March. On that day, the truth is to be put on the table. Then the expert reports on coming to terms with sexualized violence in Cologne are to be published. If there is any credibility left at all, it hangs on the 18. March by a thread, you say. What do you mean?
Kleine: When I look back, I am very grateful and we can all be very grateful that Cardinal Woelki, when he came to Cologne, said: "I clarify without regard for persons." And for this he has commissioned an expert opinion. And he emphasized that names would also be mentioned. And that was received very positively by me, that one faces up to the responsibility. Not only as far as the perpetrators are concerned, but also: Where might something have gone wrong in the authorities?? Where did they not react properly?
A year ago, this report was supposed to be published with the names and then there were different reasons, as it now turns out, why it was not published. The first expert opinion, which was drawn up in Munich. I am of the opinion that if this expert opinion had been published at that time – despite its perhaps inadequacies, despite some questions of criminal law – Cardinal Woelki would have kept his word. Consequences were discussed. It would have been a horror. Now we have a horror without end.
Interviewer: That is? Do you now also demand that the expert opinion of the Munich law firm should actually be made public right now?
Kleine: It should be made public now. I refer once again to what has happened this year. So: it should be published. It has been postponed until the fall. You still put up with that. But then in the fall they said we have a completely new expert opinion. There were irritations about the involvement of the advisory board for those affected. And now it's "Yes, on the 18. March we will publish it. This will be a tough report and we will name the names." And that's where I step in and say, "Everybody knows the names".
Interviewer: But why does everyone wait so long until they can't help but take responsibility?? Only when it can no longer be dismissed in various legal opinions?
Little one: That is my question. Those who had responsibility have been questioned because of their actions or omissions. Prelate Kumpel, as the person responsible for personnel, once commented in an interview, and I would have been pleased if one or the other had said: "I did not consciously do anything wrong. I have not protected perpetrators. But in hindsight, I have to recognize that I made a decision or two in a way that I wouldn't today. I have realized that I may have done wrong then. Superficially. I am sorry for that."And then also to get in contact with the people concerned. It all could have been done this year. But many of those who are now being assessed in the report, in their actions and omissions, say: "We're waiting for the 18th day of the year. March". My question now is, and this is the question of so many who talk to me: What happens on 18. March? It cannot be alone that names are mentioned, because we have known them for a year. What happens on the 18. March? Is there a consequence, that people affected by the expert opinion say: "Now it is proven, it is written here in black and white, I have acted wrongly or I have acted negligently or whatever?. I am sorry about that." Are there broader consequences, that people apologize or that there may be even broader resignations? All of this is the responsibility of the people who are then appointed. But that must be on 18. March all take place. Only then the expert opinion has a meaning. And not when a months-long debate then begins about how to deal with the results.
Interviewer: But there's still a little time before the 18th. March. What do you say to the people who are now fed up and no longer have confidence?? Who want to leave now?
Small: I feel the same way when I think about how the first cases of abuse became known. There I was without a catch and I am still without a catch. Can I understand how priests who have gone the same way as I have, abuse someone and then continue to be priests in peace? So these crimes I can not understand.
I feel terribly sorry for those affected and that they are now reliving the whole thing through all these actions with the experts, with the postponement, with talks, with the victims' advisory council, I also feel very sorry for them. And in another way, I feel very sorry for people who say: "Actually, I would like to live my faith." The Gospel says: "Radiate something! You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world! At the moment everything is bland and it is obscured."There must also be a conclusion and there must be consequences of whatever kind. And then I hope that people will say, "We're not going to leave, or maybe they'll come back to the Church."But that will be very, very difficult, because over the years many people have distanced themselves from us and said: "I don't trust you anymore, I don't believe you anymore. I still believe in God, but I no longer believe what you say".
Interviewer: One can tell from your interview and from you now that you are deeply concerned about the situation of the Archdiocese of Cologne. How much does it hurt you what's going on right now?
Small: I became a priest at that time because I had role models as a priest in the parish. And that was a very nice time I had in Neuss. And then I studied with joy and became a priest, was a chaplain and then in the cathedral singing school and experienced how we can proclaim the good news. How, if I am authentic, if I am credible, if I am joyful, if I live my faith, I can infect others. That's what Jesus did. Inspire others, infect them, be sensitive, have an open ear. That – I must confess – is now also somewhat clouded with me by a paralysis, where I think it must not be true. The real thing, what it's all about, comes far too short, because in the morning I open the newspaper or listen to the radio and I keep reading or hearing new news about coming to terms with the abuse, which then also frustrates me. And I'll say it quite openly: 27 years ago, my first day motto was "Serve the Lord with joy," but the joy sometimes escapes me.
Interviewer: In a sermon at the choir prayer on the last Sunday in January, you dealt with the topic of power, authority. How is that then with the power in the church? With the abuse of power, with the authority that we have all received from Jesus Christ as baptized people?
Little ones: I believe that the abuse of power was the reason also for abuse. We are a church that is supposed to be a serving church according to the words of Jesus. And Jesus says: "I did not come to be served, but to serve"."Perhaps we need to remind ourselves more as a church that everyone, no matter what their function, has a serving function. We serve the one Lord and we serve the preaching, the spreading of the gospel, and we serve the building up of the kingdom of God. And maybe after the abuse in our country and in many other parts of the world, we have to look again to emphasize this serving aspect of the church even more. Then we also become more credible again. And it's not about domination and a top and bottom, but Jesus met people, new German speaking, at eye level, especially the people on the margins. He has a claim: Christianity is not something that exists for free. That also requires commitment, but it requires a commitment in love, in mercy. And that's where I think we have to go, after we hopefully get over the crisis at some point, after the 18. We have to take a good look at ourselves, also as priests, as bishops, in order to ask: "How can we make this serving character of the church clearer??"
Interviewer: The 18. March, this date has fallen more often now. How do we go on now until 18. March? How do you see the future of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Cologne??
Little one: So I see that then a path comes to an end, which the archbishop started at that time, with his promise to clarify the situation. My interview was then made into some headlines that I am distancing myself from the archbishop. Of course I do not. The archbishop is my archbishop, but I would like to invite the diocesan leadership, the archbishop and also the vicar general, to look very closely. How can this 18. I hope that March will succeed in such a way that it does not lead to disaster, does not lead to even more disappointment, but really becomes a day when one can say: "It is a day of decision, a day of announcement." And then we can continue well together on the path, also on the path of the Pastoral Way Forward, to say: "How can we radiate as a diocese, how can we live positively with fewer staff, with fewer finances, Church of Cologne and then also be contagious and radiate and perhaps also win people anew again?"
Interviewer: But it will be easy on the 18th. March doesn't. What will happen? What can happen? We all do not know. We just know that something has to happen.
Little one: The first report was to be presented at a meeting of the priests' council. Many others were invited to join him. I think now that's going to be dialed down a little bit, because I was thinking at the time: How might that be? There's an expert opinion that nobody knows yet. And the people who are affected, who are being written about, are also sitting in the room. So I think you have to find a sensitive form. And I am also of the opinion that when the archbishop receives the report, he must know it quite quickly, or perhaps have received it a few hours earlier, in order to be able to react directly. What good is it if he gets this handed to him in front of the press? And then you say, "Now we first have to read in peace." People are waiting, I think, in the moment of delivery for a reaction. What does this now mean for us in the Archdiocese of Cologne?
The interview was conducted by Johannes Schroer.