— Rome — The Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Ranier Maria Woelki, has suspended two subordinates – auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and chancery official Fr. Günter Assenmacher – both senior officials in the archdiocesan curia, in the wake of a damning report on the Church’s mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.
Prepared by the highly respected criminal lawyer Björn Gercke and released on Thursday, the 800-page report found no wrongdoing by Woelki, who had commissioned Gercke after archdiocesan legal counsel discovered “methodological deficiencies” in an earlier review, which Woelki decided not to release to the public.
“[W]e had no alternative to the decision to commission a second expert opinion,” Cardinal Woelki told the Catholic News Agency, “because we need a methodologically clean and sustainable basis in order to clearly identify the responsibilities organizationally in our church and to be able to prevent the same mistakes being made in the future.”
Prof. Gercke’s report details “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 them boys under the age of 14. Roughly half the allegations pertained to sexual abuse of different kinds and gravity, while the rest fell under the rubric of “boundary violation” or other misconduct of a sexual nature.
Two men – one living and one dead – emerge from the report with their reputations in tatters.
The current Archbishop of Hamburg, 54-year-old Stefan Hesse, who was a priest of Cologne before becoming the country’s youngest bishop in 2015, is one. Hesse reportedly failed to do his duty in eleven cases. Cardinal Woelki’s predecessor, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, died in 2017, and is reported to have failed in 24 cases.
“I am somewhat relieved,” Cardinal Woelki also said, “that – thanks to this expert investigation – we now finally have established clarity about the past.”
“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, and 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.
Prof. Gercke criticized Cologne for its handling of documents during the probe, saying there were “significant deficiencies with regard to the organization and management of files in the archdiocese.”
“We got the impression that parts of the files were missing,” he said, “because the way the proceedings were conducted was incomprehensible.” The report did find that Cardinal Meisner also kept a secret file – “Brothers in the Mist” – that included details of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations against clerics.
Cardinal Woelki, who has rejected increasingly intense calls for his resignation and has asked the Vatican to review his handling of one case, says he will announce further steps regarding personnel next week.
Official sources in the Vatican had no word on a statement from Roman authorities regarding the report.
When Pennsylvania published its Grand Jury Report in August of 2018, it took the Vatican nearly three days to respond with expressions of “shame and sorrow.” The 2018 statement went on to say: “The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced. The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”