COLOGNE, Germany — A week after hundreds were attacked in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, the president of the German Conference of Catholic Bishops, condemned the attacks in a press release and called for more vigilance in the future.
“[T]he excesses in Cologne and other large cities are deeply disturbing for our society and can in no way be tolerated,” Cardinal Marx said.
“We need accurate information and a clear response from the authorities.”
Over 500 criminal complaints — about 40% of which involve allegations of sexual assault — have been filed to the German police regarding attacks that took place in the square outside Cologne’s main train station, according to the BBC.
Women appeared to be intentional targets of the attacks, which were allegedly carried out by large groups of seemingly Arabs or North Africans.
The incident has sparked national and international controversy, with accusations of a cover-up by the police, media and politicians after investigations indicated many of the attackers were men who entered the country as refugees.
The local police have been inundated with accusations over the delay in informing the public about the attacks. They have also been criticized for supposedly holding back information about the nationality of the suspects.
German bishops also faced criticisms for their failure to respond in a timely manner.
In his Jan. 8 statement, Cardinal Marx warned that “these new forms of violence, and especially the inhumane treatment of women, cannot be tolerated,” and he demanded that “all the different forces in society must work together to prevent this type of incident and guarantee safety.”
“As a Church, we are here to make our contribution to participate in a society that lives in mutual respect,” he stated.
The Cologne chief of police, Wolfgang Albers, lost his job over the controversy. He was dismissed Jan. 11.
A police report leaked to the press noted that when one of the suspects was arrested, he exclaimed, “I’m a Syrian. You have to treat me well. Mrs. Merkel invited me,” referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In late November, Merkel was harshly criticized for promoting an open-door policy for refugees, despite various security concerns. In 2015, the country took in more than 1 million asylum seekers, largely from North Africa and the Middle East.
In a statement to the BBC, Merkel described the attacks as “repugnant criminal acts” that Germany “will not accept.”
The German chancellor demanded that “everything that happened there will be brought to the table.”
"We must examine again and again whether we have already done what is necessary in terms of deportations from Germany, in order to send clear signals to those who are not prepared to abide by our legal order."
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker also came under fire for her response to the attacks, when she initially refuted the link to migrants and said that the city will be publishing “online guides” to help women and girls be “better prepared” when they go out at night.