German archbishop offers resignation over damning sex abuse report

archbishop sex abuse resignation

Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse has offered his resignation after being accused of mishandling sex abuse allegations while he was a priest in Cologne.

The Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Ranier Maria Woelki, also took action against two subordinates in the wake of a damning report on the church’s mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.

Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and chancery official Fr Günter Assenmacher, both senior officials in the archdiocesan curia, have been suspended.

The 800-page report was prepared by the highly respected criminal lawyer Björn Gercke.

The report was commissioned by Woelki after archdiocesan legal counsel discovered “methodological deficiencies” in an earlier review.

Controversially, Cardinal Woelki decided not to release that report to the public.

Prof. Gercke’s report details “a systematic coverup” in handling allegations of abuse between 1975 and 2018.

The report found more than 200 wrongdoers and more than 300 victims. Most of the victims were boys under the age of 14.

Roughly half the allegations pertained to sexual abuse of different kinds and gravity. The rest fell under the category of “boundary violation” or other misconduct of a sexual nature.

Archbishop Hesse, who became the country’s youngest bishop in 2015, is one of two identified in the report as having mishandled cases. The other is Cardinal Woelki’s predecessor, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017.

Meisner reportedly failed to do his duty in 24 cases, while Hesse failed in 11 cases. The failings are described as failing to follow up on or report cases of abuse, not sanctioning perpetrators or not caring for victims.

Hesse posted a video statement in which he conceded that he had made “mistakes” in the past. He said he very much regretted if he caused new suffering to victims or their relatives “through my action or omission.”

“I never participated in cover-ups,” he said. “I am nevertheless prepared to carry my part of the responsibility for the failure of the system.”

“To prevent damage to the office of the archbishop and to the Hamburg archdiocese, I am offering my resignation to Pope Francis, and I am asking him to relieve me of my duties immediately,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Vatican, and it was unlikely Francis would act quickly on Hesse’s offer. At 54 years old, Hesse is more than 20 years away from the normal retirement age for bishops.

“As of today, it is no longer possible to say we had no idea,” Cardinal Woelki told reporters at a news conference following the release of the report.

“I am deeply moved and shamed by this. Still, I am convinced that for clerics, their actions must have consequences.”

Prosecutors in Cologne are to review the report, which does not contain allegations of criminal wrongdoing. Cardinal Woelki said a copy would also go to the Vatican.

Woelki has rejected increasingly intense calls for his resignation and asked the Vatican to review his handling of one case. He said he will announce further steps regarding personnel next week.


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