Under the impression of the debate about the abuse processing in the archdiocese of Cologne, a two-day online meeting of the reform project Synodal Way began on Thursday. Abuse victims also had their say.
Cologne's Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki and Hamburg's Archbishop Stefan Hebe had spoken out for the first time in weeks before the conference. Woelki admitted before and during the meeting mistakes in the processing in his archdiocese. Hamburg's Archbishop Stefan Hebe, who had previously been head of personnel in Cologne, said in an interview with the "Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung" that he had thought about letting his office rest.
For Limburg Bishop and President of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Batzing, the credibility of the Synodal Way depends on how the scandal is handled. In a press conference before the online conference, he spoke of a "touchstone" that would determine success. The synodal presidium emphasized in a letter that the abuse investigation in Cologne had destroyed trust and left many in doubt about the "will of church authorities to unreservedly clarify the situation".
Clear letter from the presidium
The presidium letter, signed by Batzing and the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, among others, says: "Violations of the law, conduct contrary to duty and procedural errors must be punished everywhere in accordance with the law and without regard to the individual."Those responsible must draw consequences, whereby "even a resignation should not be taboo".
The Bishops' Conference commissioner for abuse, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, reported on the improved structures for coming to terms with abuse. He spoke of the need for even greater involvement of affected people and professionals in the dioceses. The interdisciplinary commissions are to exchange information among themselves and cooperate with specialized counseling centers.
Abuse victims speak out for the first time
Afterwards, the three spokespersons of the affected persons' advisory board set up by the bishops' conference, Johannes Norpoth, Kai Moritz and Johanna Beck, expressed their views. They stressed that the Synodal Way must no longer forego the voice of those concerned. "Talking to those affected is more beneficial and empathetic than talking about them," Norpoth said. Beck called for questioning power structures.
Woelki acknowledged in his remarks during the online conference that trust had been lost. He himself was responsible for mistakes, and he was sorry that those affected had been traumatized again as a result. Woelki renewed the promise that he wants clarification and reappraisal. In the Archdiocese of Cologne, he said, personal and systemic responsibilities will be clearly identified. Several participants at the conference had previously criticized Woelki in speeches. However, he also received isolated encouragement. ZdK Vice President Karin Kortmann thanked Woelki for his new promise of clarification and said synod members would take the cardinal at his word.
Of the 229 synod members, 221 had registered for the corona-conditioned format, that is 96.5 percent. The synodal assembly is the highest decision-making body of the Synodal Way. At the virtual conference, the four forums of the Synodal Way want to give insight into their work. They devoted themselves to the contents of the reform dialogue: Power, the priestly way of life, sexual morality and the role of women.