"Black Wednesday for Cologne": New investigations against Cardinal Woelki

Cardinal Woelki from Cologne only found out about allegations of abuse against clergymen very late.

"Black Wednesday for Cologne": New investigations against Cardinal Woelki

Cardinal Woelki from Cologne only found out about allegations of abuse against clergymen very late. Now an incriminating testimony has called the public prosecutor's office into action for the second time. The Archdiocese of Cologne is "shocked".

The Cologne public prosecutor's office is investigating a second case on suspicion of false affidavit against Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. A spokesman for the Cologne public prosecutor said the reason for this was the testimony of a witness in a press law procedure before the Cologne district court. "This statement gives sufficient reason to investigate the truthfulness of Cardinal Woelki's affidavit." Bonn's city dean, Wolfgang Picken, said that Woelki must now seriously consider retiring from office until the allegations have been clarified.

In the proceedings, Woelki defends himself against a report in the "Bild" newspaper about the controversial promotion of a pastor to deputy Düsseldorf city dean in 2017. Years earlier, the pastor had had sex with a 16-year-old prostitute. According to Woelkis, the newspaper falsely claimed that when he appointed the pastor he knew his personal file and that he was aware of a warning from the police. Woelki had declared in an affidavit that he did not know the contents of the personnel file. He did hear about the contact with the prostitute. However, supporters of the pastor had told him that further rumors about the man had not been confirmed.

Last week, however, the former secretary of Woelki's predecessor as Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, testified as a court witness that she had already spoken to the then auxiliary bishop Woelki about the controversial pastor in 2011. Among other things, she told him during a phone call that the pastor went to the sauna with altar boys and was lewd towards young people.

"So far, the public prosecutor's office has refrained from investigating the case," said the agency's spokesman. "The testimony of the witness has changed that." The presumption of innocence applies to Woelki until the investigation is completed. The archdiocese said the cardinal maintained that he was telling the truth. "Now we have to wait for the results of the investigation."

Bonn's city dean Picken spoke of a "black Wednesday" for the archdiocese. The second procedure leaves horror and speechlessness everywhere. Many asked themselves "shocked" where the crisis associated with Woelki would lead. "The credibility and reputation of the church is getting more and more damaged. The Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Cologne will not recover from this serious loss of image for years," Picken was quoted as saying. This leads to a high level of frustration and paralysis among many believers and officials. "As of today, it will become even more difficult to fill the office of bishop in the Archdiocese of Cologne with the necessary authority."

Two weeks ago, the Cologne public prosecutor's office had already initiated investigations against Woelki in another case, also on suspicion of false affidavit. The trigger for this was an interview in Cologne's "Stadt-Anzeiger", in which the former assistant to the personnel manager in the archdiocese said that she had informed Woelki early on about allegations of abuse against the former Sternsinger boss Winfried Pilz. Woelki rejects this accusation.

Meanwhile, the President of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, Thorsten Latzel, has canceled the traditional ecumenical vespers planned for next Sunday, according to a report in the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger". "The service at the beginning of Advent is overshadowed by the events in the Archdiocese of Cologne in such a way that prayer or preaching is no longer perceived, but only the question of positioning in the inner-Catholic debate," Latzel's spokesman Jens-Peter Iven told the newspaper. In the current situation, a celebration in the usual setting with archbishop and president "is therefore not advisable according to the assessment of the church management".

Woelki has long been criticized for his handling of abuse cases in the archdiocese. Pope Francis had asked him to submit a resignation, which Woelki did. However, the Pope has not yet decided whether to accept the request.

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