BERLIN (Reuters) – A team of German lawyers said on Thursday they had found no evidence that the Archbishop of Cologne had breached his duty in his response to cases of sexual abuse, but criticised and named several other senior church officials.
In an 800-page report into the handling of abuse cases in the archdiocese of Cologne between 1975 and 2018, criminal lawyer Bjoern Gercke said he had found more than 200 abusers and more than 300 victims in files.
His report named the Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Hesse and Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017 and was Woelki’s predecessor as archbishop of Cologne, as having breached their duty to clear up abuse cases.
Hesse did not immediately comment on the report’s findings.
“There were years of chaos, a perceived lack of competence and misunderstanding,” said Kerstin Stirner, one of Gercke’s legal team.
Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki commissioned the Gercke report after refusing to allow the publication of the findings of a first investigation which he said was flawed and not legally sound.
In an initial move, Woelki suspended two church officials, the diocese said. They were named as Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and church official Guenter Assenmacher.
Neither commented immediately on the decision.
Critics had accused Woelki of being reluctant to conduct a full investigation and his actions have caused anger among victim groups.
Woelki said he would read the report and send it to Rome. He will hold a news conference next week on personnel consequences.
“This is a first step,” he told reporters. “To uncover what happened and what is happening, to clear up any cover-up and to name those responsible.”
Several German bishops have warned that the events in Cologne were damaging the Catholic Church in Germany, and the Church worldwide has for years struggled to deal with allegations of child abuse.
Cologne, with its landmark Gothic Cathedral, has the largest membership of any diocese in the German-speaking world but for months it has been difficult to get an appointment to leave the church.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Editing by Timothy Heritage