So that “whole files do not fall behind the cabinet”

So that 'whole files do not fall behind the cabinet'

After the presentation of the abuse report for the archdiocese of Cologne, Cardinal Woelki admits to having been guilty in dealing with abuse cases. Meanwhile, he wants to initiate changes in church law.

"Just take the moral responsibility and go to protect the reputation of the episcopate and the Church – that's too easy for me. And in my eyes, it's also wrong," the archbishop said Tuesday in Cologne: "Such a resignation would only be a symbol that lasts for a short time." He could only do better out of his office. "In the future, I will do everything I can to ensure that, if possible, no more mistakes can happen."

Guilt loaded on himself

Woelki admitted to having brought guilt on himself in dealing with abuse cases. Admittedly he knew by the expert opinion that he had acted for instance in the case of the accused priest O. had acted dutifully and legally secure. "But it is not just a matter of doing the right thing, but of doing everything humanly possible. And I have not done that."It would have been better if he had reported the case to Rome.

In another case, he should have suspended an accused clergyman much earlier than actually happened.

Woelki offered a personal interview to each of the more than 300 victims of sexual abuse named in the report. "Come if you want and I will try to listen to them." But he could also understand anyone who, after his bad experiences, did not want to talk to a representative of the Church.

"Chaos in the administration"

Furthermore, Cardinal Woelki has admitted to "systemic cover-ups" in the Archdiocese of Cologne. The expert opinion published last week on how to deal with abuse allegations against priests proved this, Woelki continued. "It should never have happened like this," said the Archbishop of Cologne. Therefore, "rigorous action" must be taken now to prevent this from happening in the future.

Woelki acknowledged "chaos in the administration" and a "system of silence, secrecy and lack of control". "Generally there was a lack of compassion, generally there was a lack of empathy," the archbishop stated.

Asked about his moral responsibility as a possible confidant of abuse cases in his role as secretary to Cardinal Joachim Meisner and as auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Woelki stressed that he had been confronted with the ie very little at the time. As secretary, he said, he was not involved in personnel matters, "at least not as far as abuse is concerned". As auxiliary bishop, he had indeed belonged to the personnel conference. There, the cases were "somehow thematized" and "not dealt with so explicitly".

The roundtable had only been told in a "rather cloistered way" that an accused priest was to be suspended following allegations and that a preliminary investigation was to be launched. However, the individual case had never been concretely presented and discussed.

Vicar General Markus Hofmann added from his experience as a former Regens in the conference that the accusations had never been presented in detail.

Cardinal Woelki demands tightening of church law

Further, Cardinal Woelki has called for changes in canon law and announced better training for personnel managers. "Changes are needed in church law that regulate the handling of sexual abuse even more clearly and unambiguously," he said.

For example, statutes of limitations for sexualized violence would have to be extended and contradictions in church law and in the guidelines of the German bishops for dealing with cases of abuse would have to be eliminated. Woelki also criticized the fact that acts of abuse by priests are still seen in church law only as a violation of the promise of celibacy: "This is an eternal continuation of the wrong perspective."

Woelki also wants to ensure that no files are destroyed in the Archdiocese of Cologne in the future. He had already ordered this, and "with it I break absurdly valid church law", so Woelki: "It may and it will no longer be possible that pages from files disappear and that whole files fall behind the cabinet."It must also be ruled out that files are manipulated.

The report also showed that those responsible in the archdiocese had in part been inadequately prepared for their leadership positions, Woelki continued. He announced that it should no longer happen "that a simple pastor from one day to the next is responsible for about 200 employees and is not prepared for it".

He said there is a need for thorough training of management and leadership personnel in all matters – including how to deal with sexualized violence. As in other areas of society, there is a need for a system of mutual control and also external control.

Expert opinion reveals breaches of duty

The expert report presented on Thursday, which the archdiocese had commissioned from the law firm Gercke Wollschlager, shows how diocesan officials handled cases of sexualized violence by priests. The investigation records a total of 75 breaches of duty by eight officials, including archbishops, vicars general and personnel managers, in 24 of 236 files evaluated.

Among those accused are Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hebe (54) and Cologne Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp (53), who have already offered their resignations to the Pope, as well as the late Archbishop Joachim Meisner (1933-2017) of Cologne. Woelki himself has not been proven to have committed any misconduct.

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