The Archdiocese of Cologne comments on the reporting about the handling of a suspected case from 2010. An expert in manuscripts examined the notes in question on Thursday.
In the context of the since 19.10.2020 triggered by the "Bild," the role of Archbishop Dr. Stefan Hebe in dealing with a suspected case of sexual violence in the Archdiocese of Cologne in 2010 much discussed. It has been noticed that some information discussed in public is not reliable, partly represents interpretations and facts are mixed up. Therefore, in the interest of all involved, the Archdiocese would like to classify this information and present the course of events on the basis of reliable facts and the currently available documents.
Period 2010 to 2011
It is about a suspected case of sexual abuse, which occurred on 07.06.2010 was brought to the attention of the police. On 29.10.In 2010, the suspected priest was suspended with immediate effect by Joachim Cardinal Meisner.
Subsequently, it apparently came to a conversation of the suspected pastor in the vicariate general. A handwritten note was made about this conversation, which is still preserved and available, but most of its content is difficult to read. A first transcription attempt has not been able to provide any reliable information about the content of the handwritten note. A second attempt by an archivist and expert in orthographic transcription on Thursday, 22.10.2020, has revealed that the handwritten note consists of three different notes. Of these, the first is a transcript of a hearing of the suspected pastor by Dr. Stefan Hebe, the head of personnel at the time.
In addition, there is a conversation note dated 03.11.2010 about a telephone conversation between the legal advisor of the archdiocese of Cologne and the then defense attorney of the suspected priest. It states that no minutes should be made from the handwritten note so that it could be destroyed if necessary. The then head of the Department of Pastoral Care Personnel, Dr. Hebe, had given his consent to this.
From the passage of the conversation note that the suspected pastor "told everything here", the impression was created that it was a confession. This is an interpretation. According to the result of the last transcription, there is no evidence of a confession. In addition, Dr. Stefan Hebe in a hearing by the public prosecutor's office on 08.12.2010 that the suspected pastor had denied the accusations to him.
On 28.03.In 2011, the investigation against the suspected priest was discontinued after those involved exercised their right to refuse to testify. The statements were thus not retracted, but could no longer be used as evidence. The lawyer of the victims initially filed a complaint against the discontinuation, but later withdrew it, since the victims themselves had asked not to be involved in state or church proceedings. On 22.06.2011 Joachim Cardinal Meisner withdrew the leave of absence and paid the pastor 3.000 euros in legal fees, subject to no further investigation. In accordance with church law, the files on this case were kept separately and under the archbishop's exclusive right of access, but partial files were kept in different places in the archdiocese.
Period 2018 to 2020
After the establishment of the Intervention Unit by Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki in July 2015, the various files were successively brought together. From 2016, for the so-called MHG study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference, all files were sifted through, information was compiled for the researchers and made available to them. In the further course, all cases known up to that point were subjected to further internal review and made available to the public prosecutor's offices for renewed review at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019.
In addition, in the fall of 2018, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelkiindependent investigation was commissioned. It should achieve a comprehensive reappraisal of the events and personal responsibilities in the form of a factual and resilient expert opinion and prepare a report suitable for publication for this purpose.
For the case just discussed in the media, these files were made available to the law firm leading the independent investigation via the then head of the Intervention Unit, Oliver Vogt, and a special opinion was requested. This special report was to clarify whether and which omissions had occurred in the period 2010-2011 and how to proceed with the matter swiftly and decisively. On 07.03.2019 chancery came to the sole conclusion that a report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome in 2010 was dutifully omitted.
Subsequently, through the intervention office of the Archdiocese of Cologne, the lawyer of the affected persons was informed that an internal investigation had been reopened and asked whether the affected persons could be contacted. Then the affected persons themselves were informed about the then dutifully omitted report and the new investigation by the Intervention Office. On 04.04.In 2019, the suspected priest was again confronted and heard by the archdiocese. He denied all allegations. Am 05.04.2019, the immediate leave of absence and prohibition of the exercise of his priestly ministry ordered by Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki was communicated in a proclamation and a press release.
Finally, Oliver Vogt was placed on 08.04.2019 informed that by the reopening of the case by the Archdiocese of Cologne, the persons concerned would repeat their original statements. One day later, Oliver Vogt telephoned the public prosecutor's office, which then resumed the investigation. In order not to impede investigations by the public prosecutor's office, all steps under church law were closely coordinated with the public prosecutor's office. On 14.04.2020*, all files on the suspected pastor were finally handed over to the public prosecutor's office, which on 31.07.2020 finally brought charges. The archdiocese has agreed to pay the legal fees of those affected.
*Note: At this point, at the time of publication on 22.10.2020 the date 14.04.2019, but the correct date is 14.04.2020. The files have been sent to the public prosecutor's office in response to their requests of 27.3.20 has been sent. This correction was coordinated with the responsible public prosecutor's office.