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Cologne Cardinal suspends top priest over harassment claim

March 19, 2019

Cardinal Rainer Woelki said "we do not tolerate any form of sexual assault." The case has been referred to public prosecutors as an internal investigation gets underway.

Ulrich Hennes
Image: Imago/O. Döring

Cologne's Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki announced on Tuesday that he had placed a top priest in Düsseldorf on leave.  Monsignor Ulrich Hennes (pictured above) has been accused of sexual harassment against an adult intern in 2012, the year he took his position in Düsseldorf.

"We do not tolerate any form of sexual assault and will consequently follow the relevant instructions for suspicious cases," said Woelki in a statement.

The archdiocese's website said that they had referred the case to public prosecutors, but that an internal investigation was also ongoing. Hennes, 56, has denied the charges.

Woelki has positioned himself as a relatively progressive figure in the German church. He has criticized the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party politician Beatrix von Storch and current Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU) for anti-refugee rhetoric.

He also famously delivered a sermon in front of the Cologne Cathedral while standing in a dinghy that had be used by refugees to cross the Mediterranean.

After dealing with the sexual abuse of minors for decades, in recent years the Church has also begun grappling with the abuse of adults, especially nuns.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.