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German cardinal accused of abuse cover-up turns to pope

December 11, 2020

The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, has been accused of not informing the Vatican about sex abuse allegations against a priest. He's now asked Pope Francis to review his conduct.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki has been the Archbishop of Cologne since 2014Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vennenbernd

Facing accusations of covering up an alleged sexual abuse case, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki asked Pope Francis on Friday to investigate.

"In order to clarify the canonical accusations against me, I am asking the Holy Father [Pope Francis] to examine this matter," Woelki said in a statement issued by the archdiocese of Cologne.

"The fact remains: failures in dealing with sexual violence must be disclosed, regardless of the person against whom they were made. This also includes me," the cardinal added.

His statement confirmed an earlier report by local newspaper the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

Separately, the Bishop of Münster Felix Genn is also reviewing whether a church investigation should be launched against Woelki.

The cardinal is facing backlash for refusing to publish the results of a report on sexual abuse within the archdiocese of Cologne.

What is the cardinal accused of?

Woelki is accused of failing to inform the Vatican about a sexual abuse allegation involving a priest after the cardinal took office as the Archbishop of Cologne in 2014.

Cologne archbishop criticized over abuse report

Under the Catholic Church's canon law, reports of such allegations must be sent to the Vatican.

The case concerns a priest in Düsseldorf who died in 2017 with whom Woelki worked with when he was younger as a deacon.

In 2010, a victim contacted the archdiocese of Cologne, saying the priest sexually abused him while he was a child in the late 1970s. The victim was later compensated €15,000 ($18,175) in recognition of his suffering in 2011.

According to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger report, Woelki decided not to take action against the priest after reviewing the personnel files in 2015.

The archdiocese told the paper that the Woelki tried to investigate the accusation, but that a preliminary probe was difficult owing to the frail health of the accused priest and the victim's decision not to cooperate in the investigation.

Woelki's predecessor, the now-deceased Cardinal Joachim Meisner, is also accused of failing to send a report on the abuse to the Vatican.

Catholic abuse scandal in Germany

The accusations against one of Germany's most prominent church leaders come amid a global reckoning with abuse in the Catholic Church.

In 2018, the German Bishop's Conference presented a nationwide study about abuse perpetuated by church leaders and staff against minors.

The study found that some 1,670 clerics, mostly priests, were accused of committing sexual abuse between 1946 and 2014. There were at least 3,677 individual victims, most of whom were boys.

The actual number of cases of church sex abuse in Germany is likely much larger, as not all victims reported abuse and the study was restricted from accessing documents in other Catholic institutions, including children's homes and schools.

rs/msh  (dpa, KNA)