German Catholics bewildered cardinal not sacked

Catholics bewildered by Woelki decision

Many German Catholics have been left bewildered by Pope Francis’ decision to confirm Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki as Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne.

Francis has also granted Woelki several months to reflect on the events that led him to offer the pontiff his resignation.

The reaction of German conference president, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, to the news was cautious.

“I accept the Holy Father’s decision and hope that the process of reconciliation in the Cologne archdiocese will now begin. I cannot judge whether this can lead to a fundamentally changed situation,” Bätzing declared in Bonn.

Woelki was upbeat following the announcement.

“I had a long talk with the Holy Father, and he made it quite clear how much he counted on me. He particularly highlighted the decisiveness and determination with which we in Cologne had tried to clear up the clerical sexual abuse in our archdiocese,” Woelki told journalists on his return from a week in Rome.

Woelki admitted that he had made mistakes – “especially as far as communication is concerned” – and apologised profoundly to the victims once again.

He was deeply grateful to Pope Francis for granting him his wish to take several months off from mid-October.

“I will be back in office in the spring, and we can then work together full force for the future of our Church in Cologne,” he underlined.

The reaction to the Pope’s decision in the wider Church was hostile and has left many German Catholics bewildered.

Thomas Sternberg, the president of the Central Committee of (lay) Catholics (ZdK) said that he could not understand the Vatican decision.

“A period of leave just isn’t enough and won’t solve the crisis as it won’t regain the loss of trust”, Sternberg emphasised.

The Pope’s decision to leave Woelki in office was a “declaration of moral bankruptcy”, according to Thomas Schüller, one of Germany’s top theologians.

Francis kept insisting that there would be zero tolerance for the perpetrators and those who hushed up clerical sexual abuse. But, when things got serious, “the powers that be get soft and the bishops remain in office and get time-out, which is a slap in the face for the victims”.

Conference vice-president Bishop Franz-Josef Bode said the increase in the number of Catholics leaving the Church in Germany is “exceedingly worrying”.

Committed Catholics “in the best age group” were leaving and Bishop Bode feared that this would have a “suction effect” and they would take others with them.

“No one wants to be on a sinking ship”, he pointed out. The many talks he had held with victims of clerical sexual abuse in recent years had at times almost made him lose his faith, he admitted.




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