The German government’s commissioner for child sex abuse has blasted Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki for his “massive mistake” of not publishing a legal report into Church cover-ups of priestly pedophilia.

– “If you promise transparency and then fail to keep your promise, there is the suspicion of another cover-up”

Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, who has served since 2011 as the head of the German government’s Independent Commission for Dealing with the Sexual Abuse of Children, took aim at Woelki, the Archbishop of Cologne, in a November 23 interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Woelki has been under relentless criticism for his failure to publish the report of an outside law firm on abuse cover-ups in the Cologne archdiocese – a report that he commissioned in 2018 and originally promised to release in March this year, before delaying publication at that point and then again last month.

In Rörig’s opinion, Woelki’s failure to publish the report is creating the impression that the Cologne archbishop would prefer to keep the bad news on abuse and negligence in the local Church under wraps.

“There are many indications that Cardinal Woelki may have made a massive mistake with regard to the involvement of those affected, transparency and independence” in the processing of claims of abuse and negligence, the senior German public servant denounced.

“If you promise transparency and then fail to keep your promise, there is the suspicion of another cover-up”, Rörig reminded Woelki.

“The whole thing is a great burden and possibly a setback for the investigation” of child abuse claims in the Church, he added, lamenting that he has the impression that Woelki’s actions have again undermined the trust of survivors.

As he announced October 30 that he would be delaying the publication of the cover-up report for a second time, Woelki promised that another outside law firm would revise the original findings and publish a modified dossier by March 2021 at the latest.

Rörig praised Woelki’s apparent commitment to get to the bottom of the issue in the local Church of negligence on abuse claims, but he added “I hope that he [Woelki] will now demonstrate this will” to clean house.

– Survivor calls on archbishop to resign

At the end of last month, Woelki said he decided to pull the plug on the original cover-up report because of alleged “methodological deficiencies” in its legal aspects and the “violation of personal rights” of those named in the findings.

But in not publishing the report, the cardinal also claimed he had the support of the archdiocesan survivors’ advisory board, who later denounced they had been railroaded into approving Woelki’s course of action.

“We were meant to deliver the certificate: Approved by the advisory board”, survivor Karl Haucke said of Woelki’s decision to cancel publication of the report, also questioning whether the cardinal’s position as Cologne archbishop is still tenable, since in his opinion Woelki is guilty of a “renewed abuse of abuse victims”.

“I would indeed be interested to know how Cardinal Woelki reconciles his behaviour with his function as bishop. Margot Kaessmann, the Protestant bishop [of Hanover], resigned because she ran a red light with too much alcohol in her blood. I find the renewed abuse of abuse victims no less reprehensible”, Haucke explained.

– Former Cologne personnel manager forced to resign from role with lay committee

Extracts leaked to the media from the original Cologne report into abuse cover-ups have revealed that Woelki’s predecessors as archbishop, cardinals Joseph Höffner (1969-1987) and Joachim Meisner (1988-2014), broke civil and Church law by keeping in active ministry at least one priest convicted in court of “continued fornication with children”.

Those extracts have also hinted that the former director of personnel in the Cologne archdiocese and now Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Hesse, behaved “unlawfully in several respects” in an abuse case in 2010 and 2011.

As a consequence over the media revelations, Hesse has been forced to resign from his position as spiritual assistant to the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), and has put his future in Hamburg in the hands of the Vatican.

– Aachen bishop shows cardinal up by publishing own diocesan report

In contrast to the obfuscatory attitude of Cardinal Woelki in Cologne, the bishop of the neighbouring diocese of Aachen, Helmut Dieser, published mid-November a report on abuse and negligence in the Church there – a report carried out by the same legal firm that Woelki originally commissioned to do the Cologne study.

The Aachen report found evidence of wrongdoing by 81 priests, including two deacons, against a total of 175 victims, and alleged that Dieser’s predecessor, Heinrich Mussinghoff, along with Mussinghoff’s vicar general, Father Manfred von Holtum, treated pedophile clerics with “undeserved leniency”.

Dieser said he only had knowledge of the contents of the Aachen report a few days before it was published – in contrast to Cardinal Woelki, who read the original Cologne one as it was still being prepared and moved to stop its publication.

But upon publication of the Aachen study, Dieser immediately demanded a “sign of repentance” from Mussinghoff and von Holtum, as the report’s findings required them to admit their own “personal responsibility” with regard to Church abuse failings.

In contrast to his criticisms of Woelki, commissioner Rörig had words of praise for Dieser. “By his willingness to have the report on his diocese published, he shows that transparency and independence are important… for him”, the public servant said of the Bishop of Aachen.

More on Novena on the scandals in the Archdiocese of Cologne under Cardinal Woelki:

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

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