Cologne (dpa) – Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Heße has been accused of dereliction of duty 11 times in a report dealing with allegations of abuse. These include violations of the notification and information obligation.
However, the Cologne cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki was acquitted by the critics. Woelki immediately drew conclusions from the report by temporarily relieving two senior dignitaries of his diocese, the auxiliary bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and the official Günter Assenmacher, from their duties. “I am not responsible for everyone mentioned here,” Woelki said. “In the case of an Archbishop and an Auxiliary Bishop, the Holy See must decide.” By the archbishop he meant Hesse.
Auxiliary Bishop Schwaderlapp announced that he had already resigned Pope Francis. “I ask Pope Francis for his verdict,” Schwaderlapp said. “I cannot be a judge in my own case.” Heße had also announced in November that he wanted Rome to be investigated to see if the results of the investigation “have any bearing on my office as Archbishop in Hamburg.” So far, Heße has denied any wrongdoing.
The current Archbishop of Hamburg was previously Chief of Staff and Vicar General in the Archdiocese of Cologne. The allegations pertain to this time. The appraiser Björn Gercke and his colleague Kerstin Stirner painted a bleak picture of conditions in the Archdiocese of Cologne when they presented their 800-page report.
The evaluation of the files from 1975 to 2018 showed, among other things, “that for decades no one apparently dared to report such cases,” he criticized. “In the Archdiocese of Cologne there have been repeated attempts by individual responsible persons not to disclose cases of sexual abuse.” The goal was not to hang them on “the big bell” in order to damage the reputation of the church. Gercke made it clear that the Archdiocese of Cologne was not an isolated case: “I am not sure you will find a diocese in Germany with these standards in which we would have found no dereliction of duty.”
Woelki kept an initial report from a law firm in Munich under lock and key, for which he voiced legal concerns. Woelki’s behavior had caused a crisis of confidence in the largest German diocese.
Woelki was now expressly taken under protection by Gercke. “In media terms, it would have been easiest for us to lead Mr. Woelki to the scaffold here,” said the criminal defense attorney. But there is no basis for this. Even the withheld Munich report did not impeach Woelki, which had already informed the chancellery of the cardinal’s adviser last spring. “If the cardinal had really covered up anything about himself, he could have waved through the Munich report,” Gercke said. Then he would have “had his peace and quiet”.
On the other hand, Gercke saw failures in Woelki’s predecessor Joachim Meisner (1933-2017). One third of all observed breaches of duty go to his account, more than 20. Further breaches of duty were found in Meisner’s predecessor Cardinal Joseph Höffner (1906-1987). From 1976 to 1987 he was president of the German Conference of Bishops.
Renowned canon lawyer Thomas Schüller criticized the report. It is a good thing that some of those responsible who have committed breaches of duty are identified during the investigation. But at the same time, “The statements are to a great extent more like a defense speech, because the operation is being conducted with an inconclusive ignorance of the law and thus cover-ups are condemned,” Schüller told the German news agency.
Federal government abuse commissioner Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig described the scale of the allegations as “terrifying”. He was glad that the “unbearable wait” for the investigation was now over, Rörig explained.