Pope Francis confirms Cardinal Woelki in post after apostolic visitation of Germany’s Cologne archdiocese

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

September 24, 2021

Pope Francis has ruled that Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki should remain in charge of Germany’s Cologne archdiocese after a Vatican investigation into his handling of abuse cases, the Holy See announced on Friday.

The Vatican said on Sept. 24 that the pope had asked the 65-year-old cardinal to continue leading the archdiocese in western Germany after a period of leave, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The statement explained that the investigation had found no evidence that Woelki acted unlawfully in relation to abuse cases.

“Nevertheless, Cardinal Woelki has also made major mistakes in his approach to the issue of coming to terms with abuse overall, especially at the level of communication,” it said.

“This has contributed significantly to a crisis of confidence in the archdiocese that has disturbed many of the faithful.”

The Holy See noted that the pope and Woelki had “a long conversation” last week.

It said: “The Holy Father is counting on Cardinal Woelki, acknowledging his loyalty to the Holy See and his concern for the unity of the Church.”

“At the same time, it is obvious that the archbishop and the archdiocese need a time of pause, renewal and reconciliation. This has prompted Pope Francis to grant Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, at his own request, a period of spiritual leave, beginning in mid-October until the start of Lent next year.”

“Until his return, [Cologne auxiliary bishop] Rolf Steinhäuser, as apostolic administrator sede plena [while the post remains filled, rather than vacant], will ensure the proper administration and, above all, that the archdiocese, for its part, finds itself in a spiritual process of reconciliation and renewal.”

In a Sept. 24 statement, Woelki said: “I go this way with the clear message of the Holy Father that we have cleared up seriously and comprehensively and have not covered up anything. I would like to ask you to pray for the archdiocese and for me in the coming weeks. I also promise you my fervent prayer.”

Steinhäuser commented: “I have great respect for the magnitude of the task. We will continue the path of reconciliation in the archdiocese of Cologne already initiated by Cardinal Woelki.”

Pope Francis ordered the apostolic visitation in May amid fierce criticism of the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases.

The archdiocese said in a May 28 statement that the pope’s apostolic visitors would evaluate “possible mistakes” made by Woelki.Latest Catholic News

The apostolic visitors were Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, and Bishop Johannes van den Hende of Rotterdam, president of the Dutch bishops’ conference.

“During the first half of June, the Holy See’s envoys will visit the archdiocese to get a comprehensive picture of the complex pastoral situation in the archdiocese,” the statement said.

It added that the visitors would also examine possible errors committed by Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, who was Cologne archdiocese’s vicar general from 2012 to 2015, and the Cologne auxiliaries Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Bishop Ansgar Puff.

The apostolic nunciature in Berlin announced on Sept. 15 that the pope had asked Heße to remain as archbishop of Hamburg, northern Germany.