Laypeople have issued an ultimatum to Cologne archbishop Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, urging him to “put the truth on the table” with regard to abuse and cover-ups in the archdiocese.
– As a result of censorship, “much lies in ruins and the Church has lost credibility”
In the wake of Woelki’s failure to publish a Church-commissioned report by an outside legal team – promised since 2018 – on priestly pedophilia and the complicity of archdiocesan leadership in crimes of that nature, the executive board of the Diocesan Council of Catholics in Cologne issued a statement November 13 regretting that the archdiocesan administration “does not seem to be able to deal with the cases of sexual violence or have them dealt with in such a way that perpetrators and cover-ups are finally clearly identified”.
“As a result, much lies in ruins, and the Church has lost credibility. There must be personal consequences for perpetrators and those who engage in cover-ups!”, the board of the Diocesan Council insisted.
Expressing its “special concern” for victims, the Cologne lay body warned that members of the archdiocesan survivors’ advisory board are at risk of fatigue amid the controversy over the report, for which reason it is more important than ever that they “be taken seriously… in their concerns” and that their board be strengthened.
From that point of view of the well-being of survivors, the Cologne Diocesan Council issued a call “for justice and a new beginning” in the archdiocese with regard to abuse and cover-ups.
– Empathy and care “must take precedence over jurisprudence and technicalities”
As part of that call for justice for survivors of abuse, the Diocesan Council issued a series of demands to Woelki and other diocesan office holders, including the immediate disclosure of the identities of perpetrators and of those who had knowledge of their crimes, irrespective of the legal issues that the archdiocese has alleged as an excuse not to be transparent with the promised report.
For survivors, “it is less about legal issues than about clearly naming the perpetrators and cover-ups. The legal level does not replace moral and ethical responsibility”, the Diocesan Council reminded Woelki and his fellow officials.
The Cologne laypeople also urged the cardinal and his fellow archdiocesan office holders to treat survivors with “respect” and “solidarity”, and to give them financial compensation for their suffering “well in excess of the sums offered so far”.
Demanding that individual responsibility be taken and individual consequences be drawn on the abuse negligence in the archdiocese, the Cologne Diocesan Council demanded of Woelki that the basic attitudes of human empathy and pastoral care “again take precedence over jurisprudence and technicalities”.
The laypeople called on the cardinal to show his care for survivors with a “public process of reconciliation” in the archdiocese, which they said must include a penitential rite in the cathedral in which Woelki and fellow officials confess their failures with regard to abuse, and that much with a view to making a new start in the Church in Cologne.
Though the Diocesan Council said those steps were absolutely necessary, it expressed its doubts that the current archdiocesan leadership was capable of such a conversion to justice on its own.
“If this is not possible, further steps must be considered, such as the establishment of a truth commission independent of the Church”, the laypeople recommended.
The Council’s call for a truly independent commission of investigation on abuse and negligence in the Cologne archdiocese came as both the Eckiger Tisch nationwide group of survivors of abuse in the German Church and a coalition of national associations of pastoral workers both recommended precisely that step, involving, for example, the North Rhine-Westphalian government’s independent commissioner for child sexual abuse.