A canon lawyer has accused Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of “unprecedented brazenness” for suppressing an independent report into clergy sex abuse cover-ups in the Cologne archdiocese.

– Cardinal’s “abuse of abuse victims… nefarious, shameful and inexcusable”

“I am a canonist. I deal solely with dark chapters of Church history and bad things within the Church. But such brazenness as that shown by the archdiocese of Cologne is unprecedented. This can and will be proven”, Thomas Schüller, professor of Catholic canon law at the University of Münster, said in comments reported by DW November 25.

Schüller was referring to Cologne archbishop Cardinal Woelki’s October 30 decision to withhold publication of the report on archdiocesan negligence in clergy sex abuse cases that he commissioned in 2018 from law firm Westpfahl-Spilker-Wastl (WSW).

As justification for that decision, Woelki accused the legal practice of preparing a dossier that was not “legally watertight” and that contained “inadmissible prejudices”. The cardinal had already delayed publication of the report in March.

Woelki has commissioned another legal firm to present a new report by March next year at the latest.

Schüller later doubled down on his criticisms of Woelki in comments to the Südwest Presse newspaper, in which he said that the cardinal’s mistake had been to promise total clarification of the archdiocesan cases of priestly pedophilia only to fail at the last moment.

“The abuse of abuse victims in this case is nefarious, shameful and inexcusable”, the canonist deplored.

He went on to hint at a sinister conspiracy underway in the local Church, since “those responsible for cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Cologne, who are still alive, know exactly who each other is and everyone knows that if one falls, all the others will fall with him”.

– Refusal to publish revealed “lack of nerve”: Bishops’ Conference official

Pressure is continuing to mount on Cardinal Woelki for his failure to publish the WSW report, especially since the neighbouring diocese of Aachen recently published a similar report drawn up by the same law firm.

A source in the German Bishops’ Conference told the Irish Times November 19 that “work on the [Cologne and Aachen] reports began in parallel, the methodology was identical, so Cologne’s refusal to publish – citing personal privacy laws – in reality reflects a lack of nerve”.

“In the Bishops’ Conference we agreed to name names. Aachen has honoured that promise and, so far, there has been no legal pushback by those named”.

– “People who have already been damaged in their lives by clergymen are being damaged again to protect the institution”: survivor

But what’s really at stake in Cardinal Woelki’s refusal to publish the WSW report was eloquently explained by abuse survivor Karl Haucke in comments to DW.

In the 1960s, and from the age of eleven, Haucke was abused by a priest at least once a week for four straight years.

Haucke was the spokesman of the Cologne archdiocesan survivors’ committee until he resigned in protest earlier this month after Woelki railroaded him and the other board members into rubber-stamping the cardinal’s decision not to publish the WSW report.

“We were needed as a core group, to put a stamp of approval on the moral rectitude of the decision to suppress the results”, the survivor told DW.

Decrying that his treatment at the hands of Woelki has brought his old trauma demons back again, Haucke denounced that in giving the green light to the cardinal’s decision to suppress the report “the survivors were used again”.

“People who have already been damaged in their lives by clergymen are being damaged again to protect the institution”, the victim lamented.

“I could not achieve closure with the man who abused me because he died in the 1980s. But I am still waiting for the public acknowledgment of guilt by the institution that employed this perpetrator, that stood idly by, that gave him the necessary infrastructure to commit all these crimes. I still hold out hope of achieving closure with this institution”, Haucke shared.

More on Novena on the scandals in the Cardinal Woelki’s Cologne archdiocese:

German government commissioner for child sex abuse blasts Cardinal Woelki for “massive mistake” of not publishing cover-up report

Archdiocese of Cologne threatens Catholic University Community over criticisms of Church authority, sexual morality – report

Laypeople issue ultimatum to Cardinal Woelki: “Put the truth on the table” with regard to abuse, cover-ups in Cologne archdiocese

Catholic youth call on Cardinal Woelki to resign for burying report into clergy sex abuse cover-ups

Whistleblower priest blasts Cologne archdiocese, Cardinal Woelki for failure to publish report on Church abuse cover-ups

Catholic women protest Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Woelki’s refusal to publish report on Church sex abuse, cover-ups


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.