Pope Francis orders the German cardinal, whose handling of abuse caused a “crisis of confidence”, to take a sabbatical

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki from Cologne will take a “spiritual sabbatical” after an investigation by the Vatican has shown that he did nothing illegal in his handling of clerical allegations of sexual abuse, but that he contributed to a “crisis of confidence” Archdiocese.

The German Bishops’ Conference announced on September 24th that Pope Francis had had “a long conversation” with Cardinal Woelki at the beginning of September, and agreed to the Cardinal’s request that the Archdiocese would need a pause from mid-October to the 1st Renewal and reconciliation. “

The auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Rolf Steinhäuser, will act as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese and lead “a spiritual process of reconciliation and renewal”.

In May, Pope Francis ordered an apostolic visit to the Archdiocese of Cologne “to get a comprehensive picture of the complex pastoral situation” and to examine how the Cardinal and Auxiliary Bishops Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff dealt with allegations of sexual abuse by clerics are. both had offered to resign.

The auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Rolf Steinhäuser, will act as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese and lead “a spiritual process of reconciliation and renewal”.

After an on-site investigation and review by the offices of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis “has decided not to accept her resignation from office. In the case of both bishops, there were isolated deficiencies in the handling of the procedure ”, but“ no intention to cover up abuse or to ignore those affected ”, according to the statement of the German bishops.

Bishop Puff will resume his regular service immediately, the statement said, while Bishop Schwaderlapp “has asked permission to work as a chaplain in the Archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya, for one year before taking up his post as auxiliary bishop the archdiocese returns Cologne. The Holy Father has granted this request. “

Regarding the 65-year-old Cardinal Woelki, the statement said: “There was no evidence that he acted unlawfully in dealing with cases of sexual abuse.”

Claims that the cardinal was trying to cover up cases or the extent of the problem “are refuted by the facts now published and the documents examined by the Holy See. The archbishop’s determination to come to terms with the crimes of abuse in the church, to reach those affected and to promote prevention is evident not least in the implementation of the recommendations of the second study, which he has already started. “

Claims that the cardinal was trying to cover up cases or the extent of the problem “are refuted by the facts now published and the documents examined by the Holy See”.

The cardinal’s decision not to publish a first report by a Munich law firm on the handling of allegations caused a stir. Instead, the cardinal ordered a new report from a Cologne criminal defense attorney and published it in March. The report cleared Cardinal Woelki of wrongdoing.

Cardinal Woelki made “big mistakes in dealing with the issue of abuse as a whole, especially at the level of communication,” the statement said. “This has contributed significantly to the crisis of confidence in the archdiocese, which has disturbed many believers” and prompted the cardinal to ask the Pope for a sabbatical.

In a conversation with reporters in Cologne on September 24th, the cardinal asked the people to acknowledge how the Pope and the Vatican investigations found that he had dealt with the allegations “seriously and thoroughly and did not cover anything up”.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, expressed his hope on Twitter for a “reconciliation process in the Archdiocese of Cologne” in the absence of Cardinal Woelki in a few months. “

“The instrument of a sabbatical is not enough. It is completely unclear what the end of such a sabbatical could be, and it is not likely to restore lost confidence. “

The bishop said many victims of sexual abuse by clergy and many Catholics in the archdiocese were “confused and hurt” by the Pope’s decision not to remove any of the bishops, and therefore prayed that the Catholics in Cologne would have “great strength and determination “Would have and the necessary patience for the path that begins now.”

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, said he couldn’t understand the Vatican’s decision to keep Cardinal Woelki in office.

“The instrument of a sabbatical is not enough. It is completely unclear what the end of such a sabbatical could be, and it is not likely to restore lost confidence. “

The sabbatical is not a solution to the crisis of confidence, he added.

“In politics and in democratic structures, resigning from office can help to take on responsibility and initiate changes. The decision of the Vatican prevents such a renewal process, which is urgently needed. “It is now important that the leadership of the archdiocese strive for a close involvement of the faithful in order to find out” how a constructive church life in the archdiocese is possible again “.

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Anli Serfontein contributed to this story in Berlin.

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