Survivor Karl Haucke

Cologne diocese abuse scandal: Investigators identify suspects

Deutsche Welle [Bonn, Germany]

March 18, 2021

[With a video background report, Sexual abuse in Germany – A cardinal under pressure, including an interview with survivor Karl Haucke (photo above). See the report.]

Germany’s largest Catholic diocese commissioned the independent report into years of abuse by clergy. The report names over 200 abusers and more than 300 victims, and accuses the archbishop of Hamburg of breach of duty.

A German law firm published an independent report Thursday following accusations of efforts to cover up sexual violence in Germany’s most powerful Roman Catholic diocese, Cologne.

The report identified around 243 abusers of minors — priests or laypeople working for the church — and at least 386 victims between 1946 and 2018, but some of these did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Cologne diocese.

Some 55% of cases referred to children under the age of 14 and around half dealt with sexual violence. The rest of the cases had to do with verbal or physical abuse.

Almost two thirds of abuses were carried out by members of the clergy, the rest by lay people. The report also indicated a clear rise in reported abuse between 2004 and 2018.

Two clergyman to be discharged

The report did not specifically identify the archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki of a breach of duty. Woelki commissioned the report. But the report named several other high-up church figures including the current archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Hesse, who worked in Bonn, near Cologne, in the 1990s.

Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017 and was Woelki’s predecessor as archbishop of Cologne, is also accused of multiple breaches of duty.

Following the announcement of the report, Woelki announced he would be discharging two members of the clergy.

“What we have seen shows clearly there was a cover-up,” he said. “I am ashamed.”

Cardinal Woelki has not ruled out stepping down
Cardinal Woelki has not ruled out stepping down

Lack of documents

The long-awaited independent report, commissioned by the diocese of Cologne, was announced by Björn Gercke, an attorney from a Munich law firm that conducted the investigation. It is the second report, after Cologne Archbishop Woelki infuriated people within the church by suppressing an earlier one.

The investigators summed up the report as identifying “years of chaos, subjectively perceived lack of competence and misunderstandings.”

Gercke said the report was the result of interviews with affected affected people and the examination of documents going back to the 1940s. He said that in many cases there was a lack of documents that held up the investigation, but praised the diocese for their support and openness in the process.

The investigation took five months and runs to over 800 pages. Gercke also said he was surprised at the criticism leveled at the diocese of Cologne over delays in the investigation, pointing out it was one of the first of its kind in Germany.

‘Complete failure’

Archbishop Woelki, who is also a cardinal, has not ruled out stepping down over the scandal.

He drew ire for keeping an earlier report under wrap for months. He cited legal concerns, saying that the perpetrators may have a right to privacy.

The latest report, conducted by a different lawyer, refers to abuses carried out between 1975 and 2018.

Woelki’s approach was described as a “disaster” by Georg Baetzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, and the diocese council in Cologne said he had “completely failed as a moral authority.”

In November, Cardinal Woelki turned to Pope Francis, asking the head of the Catholic Church to take over the investigation.

Previous reports show failings

Last November, the diocese of nearby Aachen published its own study by the same law firm. A 2018 study commissioned by the German Bishops’s Conference showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

In wake of the scandal, demand has risen for people looking to formally leave the church in Germany.

Much of both reports will not be published until later in March and the church is not expected to formally respond until then.