“The expert opinion is not court-proof”

Symbolic image: lawyer with robe © Pierre-Antoine Pluquet (CBA)

Criminal law experts have backed up their criticism of the abuse study prepared for the Archdiocese of Cologne by the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl. "The expert opinion is not court-proof," said criminal lawyer Matthias Jahn.

He made his comments to journalists in Cologne on Monday. The abuse study prepared by the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl investigates possible misconduct by responsible persons of the archdiocese in cases of sexualized violence.

According to Cologne-based criminal law expert Bjorn Gercke, the report contains "alleged accusations of guilt with strong words, without providing any evidence". Gercke is expected to serve the archdiocese until 18. March 2021 to write a new expert opinion.

Chancellery rejects accusations

The law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl rejected the accusations. The opinion of Jahn and the Erlangen-based criminologist Franz Streng on their investigation, commissioned by the Archdiocese of Cologne, itself suffers from a fundamental methodological flaw, she said: "The commission given to us in December 2018 consisted of a comprehensive assessment of the actions of those responsible for the diocese."A limitation to the mere legality control had not been intended: "The firm would also have rejected such a limited expert assignment."

Jahn accused the chancellery of having singled out 15 allegedly serious cases from the 189 personnel files evaluated, without giving any further reasons for this. This does not do justice to many victims who were not taken into account in the study. According to Jahn, extraneous motives such as the prominence of those responsible may have played a role in the selection process. In addition, the mention of responsible persons by name could result in civil lawsuits in the event of deficiencies.

"Expert opinion will be uncomfortable for the archdiocese"

Gercke also spoke of an arbitrary selection of examples. For example, the case of a clergyman recently re-indicted by the Cologne public prosecutor's office is only discussed on half a page. According to the criminal lawyer, the order ied to him includes identifying violations of the law by diocesan officials – on the basis of a legal opinion and not according to moral-ethical standards.

"The report will be uncomfortable for the archdiocese," Gercke said in response to objections that Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki wanted to withhold information. His team of five lawyers and research assistants will evaluate each of the 312 suspected cases. His office had been commissioned by the archdiocese in October and had been sent the 189 personnel files to be evaluated and 236 intervention files for this purpose. There are 243 accused and 386 victims of sexual violence.

According to Gercke, there is a major problem with "deficient files". Among other things, he accused Westphal Spilker Wastl of not having made an effort to clarify the authorship of illegible signatures on notes, for example, with the help of the Cologne Diocesan Archives. On such a note are based, for example, cover-up accusations, which, according to the media, are directed against the former head of personnel and later vicar general of the archdiocese, Stefan Hebe, in the unpublished study. The current archbishop of Hamburg rejects these allegations.

Affected persons advisory council reports

In the meantime, Patrick Bauer, spokesman of the advisory board of the Archdiocese of Cologne, pleaded for an immediate publication of the criticized Munich study. Although the committee of abuse victims voted against it after its meeting together with the archdiocese of Cologne on Friday, Bauer told the Internet portal katholisch.de. But he had been surprised at the meeting with the deliberations about the continuation of the study. In the aftermath, he said, it had become clear to him that things "had not gone well.". However, this was his personal assessment, which had not yet been agreed with the Advisory Board.

A member of the council wants to be released from his task first, as the Archdiocese of Cologne Catholic.de announced. The person wants to have more time to think about the whole ie, he said.

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