Cardinal Woelki takes time out from archdiocese, retains Pope’s confidence

Vatican News - Holy See [Vatican City]

September 24, 2021

Having reviewed the results of the apostolic visit to the German archdiocese of Cologne concerning the handling of abuse cases, the Pope accepts Cardinal Woelki’s request to have a break. At the same time, the Holy Father rejected the resignation of two auxiliary bishops of Cologne.

Pope Francis has accepted the request of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, to spend “a spiritual time outside the diocese” from mid-October until the beginning of Lent next year, but reiterating that he continues to count on him. This was made known in a statement from the Apostolic Nunciature in Germany released by the Archdiocese of Cologne and the German Bishops’ Conference.

The communiqué refers to the Holy Father’s decisions, which came about after taking “careful note” of the results of the apostolic visit to the archdiocese made by Cardinal Archbishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm and Bishop Johannes van den Hende of Rotterdam from June 7 to 14 last year to examine the complex pastoral situation determined by the issue of abuse.

Accusations against Woelki refuted

With regard to Cardinal Woelki, the statement says, “it does not appear that in the management of cases of sexual abuse he has acted against the law.” The accusations against the cardinal for having covered up these cases have been refuted by the documentation examined by the Holy See and by the facts that have come to light in the meantime. “Instead,” the statement reported, “the archbishop’s determination to address the crime of abuse, to care for the victims and to promote prevention” emerged. However, the statement emphasizes, “in the overall management of the issue, especially at the level of communication, Cardinal Woelki also committed big mistakes. This essentially contributed to the crisis of confidence in the archdiocese.”

A pause for a time of renewal

In the past week, Pope Francis received Cardinal Woelki for a long conversation. “The Holy Father,” the Nunciature statement said, “counts on Cardinal Woelki” and “recognizes his fidelity to the Holy See and his commitment to the unity of the Church. At the same time, it is clear that the archbishop and the archdiocese need a pause, a time of renewal and reconciliation.” Hence it was decided that the cardinal would spend a period of time outside of the diocese. Until his return, auxiliary bishop Rolf Steinhäuser will provide for the archdiocese in the capacity of apostolic administrator sede plena.

Resignation of auxiliary bishops Puff and Schwaderlapp rejected

Additionally, Pope Francis, having examined the information received from the apostolic visitors, has decided not to accept the resignations of the two auxiliary bishops of Cologne, Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. The Nunciature’s communiqué said that “managerial defects were noted,” with regard to both, “but not the intention to cover up abuse or ignore the victims.” For this reason, it said, Bishop Puff will resume his office immediately, while Bishop Schwaderlapp has asked for, and obtained, from the Pope the possibility to carry out his pastoral ministry for a year in the archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya, before resuming his work in Cologne.