Perjury probe – Archdiocese of Cologne raided

Archdiocese of Cologne

German investigators conducted raids within the Archdiocese of Cologne as part of a perjury investigation targeting Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.

The probe is in connection with media coverage of sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.

The Cologne prosecutors confirmed that around 30 police officers searched six locations, including Woelki’s residence and an IT centre responsible for handling Church emails.

In a statement, the prosecutors clarified that the searches proceeded smoothly and encountered significant cooperation from the sites involved.

The prosecutors also emphasised that the accusations against Woelki do not suggest any active or passive involvement in covering up or participating in acts of abuse.

“In terms of content, the main issue in each case is whether Cardinal Woelki had any knowledge at all and, if so, at what specific point in time, of allegations of abuse levelled against two clerics,” Cologne Prosecutor Ulf Willuhn told reporters.

Cardinal Woelki, aged 66, has faced intense criticism for his handling of widespread child molestation cases involving clergy members, including allegations that he assisted in concealing abuse committed by two priests in Duesseldorf, one of whom has since passed away.

The Cologne prosecutor’s office initiated the investigation into Woelki following a criminal complaint filed by a layperson last month.

The suspicion of perjury stems from Woelki’s testimony during a media rights hearing against Bild newspaper in late March. In his testimony, Woelki claimed never to have read two documents about a priest accused of abuse and denied being aware of their contents.

However, it is alleged that he referenced the information contained in those documents, which included details of sexual misconduct by the priest against young individuals, in a letter sent to the Vatican in 2018.

Vatican visitation ordered by Pope

Under German law, perjury carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, with a minimum penalty of one year behind bars.

The German criminal justice system has recently taken a proactive stance in prosecuting offences related to sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church over the past few decades.

In a potentially groundbreaking case, a German court earlier this month ordered the Cologne archdiocese to pay €300,000 ($328,000) in damages to a victim of repeated sexual abuse by a priest.

Previously, the Church in Germany had made “voluntary” payments totalling approximately €40 million to victims.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 revealed that between 1946 and 2014, 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual assault against 3,677 minors.

Authorities believe that the actual number of victims may be significantly higher.

In response to a damning report on child sex abuse, including an examination of potential mistakes made by Woelki, Pope Francis ordered an apostolic visitation of the Cologne archdiocese in 2021.

The visitation aims to investigate the handling of abuse cases within the diocese.

Following the raids, Thomas Schueller, an expert in canon law at the University of Muenster, told the newspaper Rheinische Post that “it is now up to Woelki to decide for himself whether to pull the ripcord.

“However, his behaviour so far shows that he is clinging to his bishop’s chair and puts his personal well-being above that of the Archdiocese of Cologne,” Schueller said.


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