Pope orders apostolic visitation for Archdiocese of Cologne

Pope Francis has ordered an apostolic visitation of the Archdiocese of Cologne, in Germany, to examine the pastoral situation and the handling of sexual abuse cases.

The archdiocese said that the pope’s apostolic visitors would evaluate “possible mistakes” made by its leader, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.

“During the first half of June, the Holy See’s envoys will visit the archdiocese to get a comprehensive picture of the complex pastoral situation in the archdiocese,” the statement said.

It added that the visitors would also examine possible errors committed by Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, who was Cologne archdiocese’s vicar general from 2012 to 2015, and the Cologne auxiliaries Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Bishop Ansgar Puff.

Woelki welcomed the apostolic visitation saying, “I welcome the fact that with the apostolic visitation the pope wants to get his own picture of the independent investigation and its consequences.”

The apostolic visitors will be Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm and Bishop Johannes van den Hende of Rotterdam, president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, reported CNA Deutsch.

“I will support Cardinal Arborelius and Bishop van den Hende in their work with full conviction. I welcome every measure that will help to ensure accountability.”

The 64-year-old cardinal announced in December 2020 that he had asked Pope Francis to review the decisions he took regarding an accused priest ‘Pastor O’ in 2015.

Woeki, who was appointed archbishop of Cologne in 2014, has faced calls to resign since the archdiocese controversially declined to publish a report by the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl.

In January 2019, the archdiocese commissioned the law firm to examine relevant personnel files from 1975 onwards. Their brief was to determine “which personal, systemic or structural deficits were responsible in the past for incidents of sexual abuse being covered up or not being punished consistently.”

Lawyers advising the archdiocese raised concerns about “methodological deficiencies” in the law firm’s study. Woelki then commissioned Cologne-based criminal law expert Professor Björn Gercke to write a new report.

The Gercke document, more than 800 pages in length, covers the period from 1975 to 2018 with the goal of identifying any legal missteps or violations, as well as those responsible.

Specifically, the Report refers to 314 victims of sexual abuse, all but one of them minors, and 202 aggressors, nearly two-thirds of whom are clergy.


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