A whistleblower priest has blasted the Cologne archdiocese and its archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, for their failure to publish a report on Church abuse cover-ups.

– Cardinal Woelki and other officials “repeating the abuse”

Father Klaus Mertes, who was the first to lift the lid on the sex abuse crisis in the German Church in 2010, lamented November 10 in comments to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper that Woelki and the Cologne archdiocese are “exploiting” abuse victims once again.

The Jesuit accused Woelki and other archdiocesan leaders of “repeating the abuse” survivors suffered by not publishing an independent report on the negligence of senior Church officials that has been in the works since 2018.

The priest was particularly critical of Cardinal Woelki’s move to justify not publishing the investigation – carried out by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) – by appealing to the wishes of an archdiocesan survivors’ advocacy and advisory association.

On October 30 the Cologne archdiocese explained that legal advice it had received on the WSW report indicated that it suffers from “methodological flaws” which mean that its attributions of personal responsibility to current and former office holders in the archdiocese in abuse cover-ups do not stand up to legal scrutiny.

Patrick Bauer, the spokesman for the archdiocesan survivors’ group, said at the time that group members were “disappointed and angry” that WSW had done “such a poor job and… broken promises of a thorough, legally-sound review”. Bauer, however, later walked back that criticism of WSW and called on Woelki to be transparent and to publish the report.

Mertes, for his part, criticised Woelki’s failure to listen to Bauer and the other members of the survivors’ group and compared the cardinal’s treatment of them to an abuser’s treatment of a victim.

“It is the same… as when the abuse perpetrators say to their victims afterwards: ‘You yourself wanted and participated in the abuse’. It is exactly this… that the victims must now listen to again”, the Jesuit deplored.

– Cardinal “invites the victims to participate, but on his own terms”

Mertes also condemned Woelki’s failure to set up a survivors’ advisory group that was totally independent of the archdiocese.

A body whose members are chosen and appointed by the archbishop – as in Cologne – is not on an equal footing with the Church as an institution, the priest denounced, adding that by setting up the body in that way Woelki “invites the victims to participate” in pushing the Church to accountability and transparency, “but on his own terms”.

Mertes said that there is need in Cologne of an independent “truth commission” to get to the bottom of the abuse scandals and cover-ups.

Such a commission – if set up in true equality and respecting the self-organisation and independence of victims’ groups – would go further along the path of transparency, the Jesuit explained, especially if victims had direct access to Church archives themselves.

“If you give victims access to files, for example, they must also be able to speak openly about what they have seen”, the Jesuit further advised.

He also criticised that after having been silenced as child victims, the survivors are now being muzzled again by the archdiocese.

“Now… the institution wants to dictate again to the victims as adults what they can and cannot say?”, Mertes asked rhetorically, adding that he found that dynamic “horrifying”.

– About the Cologne report

Cardinal Woelki commissioned WSW to carry out a report into Cologne archdiocesan failures in responding to sex abuse in autumn 2018, in the wake of the publication of the so-called MHG study into abuse in the German Church as a whole.

WSW’s brief was to investigate Cologne Church records in order to determine whether senior Church officials violated state or Church law in dealing with crimes of pedophilia committed by priests, deacons and religious.

Woelki originally promised to publish the WSW report in March this year, but two days before a press conference to launch the document the cardinal pulled the plug, leading to allegations that the Church in Cologne is riven by a power struggle between Church officials who favour full disclosure and those still seeking to protect the institution’s image at all costs.

The cardinal has since promised that the WSW report will be revised by another legal team and will be published in March 2021 at the latest.

More on Novena on the Cologne abuse and cover-ups report:

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

More on the struggle for accountability in the Church:

Church faces reckoning on clergy sex abuse in Poland, France with punishment of cardinal, publication of new report


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.