Pope Francis has called on Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm and Bishop Johannes van den Hende of Rotterdam to undertake an Apostolic Visitation of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany.
The Holy See website describes an Apostolic Visitation as “an exceptional initiative of the Holy See which involves sending a Visitor or Visitors to evaluate an ecclesiastical institute” with the intention of assisting “the institute in question to improve the way in which it carries out its function in the life of the Church.”
A note from the Apostolic Nunciature to Germany explains that “The Holy See’s envoys will gain an overall picture of the Archdiocese’s complex pastoral situation and at the same time examine any errors committed by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, as well as by the Archbishop of Hamburg, Archbishop Stefan Hesse, and the auxiliaries (of Cologne), Bishops Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff, regarding cases of sexual abuse.”
The Visitation comes in the wake of a damning report carried out by the German law firm Gercke and Wollshläger, detailing decades of abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese. The report examined more than 200 cases of alleged abuse involving 314 victims and some 200 abusers, nearly two-thirds of whom were clergy.
Two Cardinals, Joseph Höffner and Joachim Meisner, both former Archbishops of Cologne, were heavily criticised in the report. Archbishop Hesse, who had served as Cardinal Meisner’s assistant in Cologne, was also named in the report, and subsequently offered his resignation to the Pope, who has not yet accepted it.
After the report was published, Cardinal Woelki suspended Bishop Schwaderlapp, along with another Church official, Guenter Assenmacher. Bishop Schwaderlapp has also submitted his resignation. Bishop Puff, who was accused of failing in his duties of oversight in one case, and requested a leave of absence, which Cardinal Woelki granted.
In a statement issued by the Archdiocese following Friday’s announcement, Cardinal Woelki said he welcomed “the fact that with the Apostolic Visitation the Pope wants to get his own picture of the independent investigation and the consequences,” noting that he had already informed the Pope “comprehensively about the situation” in the Archdiocese in February. He added that he will support the Visitors “with full conviction.”
The Visitation is expected to take place in the first half of June; however, it is unknown when – or if – the results will be made public.