Police search Cologne archdiocese in abuse perjury investigation

Reuters [London, England]

June 27, 2023

By Friederike Heine and Madeline Chambers

German police searched properties belonging to the Archdiocese of Cologne on Tuesday as part of a perjury investigation against Cologne Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki linked to his handling of historic abuse cases, prosecutors said.

Last year, prosecutors said they were investigating whether Woelki, one of the most senior clerics in Germany’s Catholic Church, perjured himself in sworn testimony about abuse committed by a priest who died in 2019.

The archbisopric said at the time the attempt to accuse Woelki of perjury was unfounded.

“They are looking for clues that prove or refute the accusation of false testimony against Cardinal Woelki,” said lawyer Ralf Hoecker, representing the archbishop.

“It will take time until there is a result,” he said in an email, adding that in the end the case would be stopped because the cardinal had told the truth.

The Catholic Church in Germany has for years struggled to deal with the fallout of a historic abuse scandal and criticism that senior clergy failed to act when first told about it.

A report in 2021 found that in Cologne alone, Germany’s largest archdiocese, there had been more than 200 abusers and more than 300 victims, mostly under the age of 14, between 1975 and 2018.

Prosecutors in Cologne said some 30 police officers were involved in searches in six locations, four of which were in Cologne and included rooms in the archbishop’s residence.

“The aim was to secure written documents and collect communication within the diocese on events linked to statements by the accused that were reported to be untrue,” prosecutors said. They added that it would take time to evaluate items that had been secured.

The allegations concern abuse by priest Winfried Pilz who had run a Catholic children’s charity and died in 2019.

German public broadcaster WDR, which first reported the raids, had reported last year that its reporters had seen a document indicating Woelki was told about the case earlier than he had said under oath.

In a statement, the archdiocese said by looking into the business documents and emails, it should be established whether the perjury accusation made against Woelki can be proven or refuted.

Woelki last year offered his resignation to the Pope. Rome has not yet made a decision on whether to accept it.

Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Friederike Heine and Madeline Chambers, Editing by Maria Sheahan, Ed Osmond and Alison Williams