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Cologne Catholic sex abuse probe seen as cover-up

February 16, 2021

Germany's secular panel on sexualized violence against children says Cologne's Catholic archdiocese has "severely damaged" moves to own up to its abusive past.

Priest holds a teddy bear
Image: Imago Images/McPhoto

Cologne's archbishopric "severely damaged" the process of owning up to decades of sexualized violence against children in its ranks as demanded by victims and lay Catholics, a top secular German panel found on Monday.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse — a commission mandated by parliament since 2016 to probe cases across German society — decried the diocese's own internal review, saying this must be done instead by outsiders.

Its statement coincided Monday with Munich lawyers refuting a claim by Cologne Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki that their report, delivered to him last year but kept secret, only examined 15 selected cases out of "all 236 available cases."

All cases were examined, insisted the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), but to protect victims from being re-traumatized the report focused on 15 anonymized examples.

Cardinal Woelki, facing widespread disquiet, even rebellion, in his diocese, has sworn to publish a second report compiled by a Cologne lawyer on March 18, with his office rebuffing calls to release the original WSW report.

Public sees 'cover-up"

The Berlin-based panel on Monday, referring to the "Cologne Archbishopric" but not Woelki by name, said from the outside" the public saw a "cover-up."

And, those affected — once children and adolescent victims, who had advised the archdiocese as a group during its internal inquiry — now felt "instrumentalized," said the panel.

Catholics wanting their church to face up to its past felt a "great burden" of disappointment, added the seven-member panel.

Cologne archbishop criticized over abuse report

Independent examination essential

The archbishopric's assertion in October that the WSW report could not be published due to "methodical flaws," had raised "considerable doubts about the (church's) willingness to honestly come to terms with the past," said the panel,

It pointed out that recommendations it made in 2019 on how to probe abuses within institutions, families and sport associations included, centered on the need for independence, transparency as well as direct consultation with persons victimized.

The seven commission members
Germany's Independent Commission for Investigation of sexualized Child Abuse.Image: Anja Müller/Aufarbeitungskommission.de

Catholic community broadcasts satirical broadside

Cologne cabaret artist and author Jürgen Becker, delivering a satirical online sermon from the city's Saint Agnes church Monday accused archdiocese leaders of "systematically covered up the mass clergy sexual abuse for decades."

While Cardinal Woelki maintained a "holy silence," opined Becker, his predecessor, the late Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017, had established a cover-up "system."

Becker's address, delivered via Youtube and Facebook by the church's own central Cologne community, had attracted tens of thousands of viewers by Monday evening as Rhineland stuck to coronavirus strictures ruling out its normal Rose Monday Carnival festivities.

Becker finished his address by saying Cologne's next bishop should not be Catholic and should be a woman, echoing demands by the Catholic women's initiative Maria 2.0.

ipj/aw (KNA, epd, AFP)