German Cardinal Says He Will Keep Promise to Publish Abuse Report

Cardinal Woelki has faced a wave of criticism — both in the German media and from local Church representatives — for not publishing the original report.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. (photo: Jochen Rolfes / Archdiocese of Cologne)

COLOGNE, Germany — A German cardinal facing calls to resign confirmed on Thursday that he would release an eagerly awaited report on abuse cases in his archdiocese next month. 

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki told the Kölnische Rundschau newspaper on Feb. 4 that he stood by his promise to release the Gercke Report on clerical abuse on March 18.

He also said that an independent commission would be granted access to another report, by the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl, which the Archdiocese of Cologne controversially declined to publish.

Cardinal Woeki, the Archbishop of Cologne since 2014, has been asked repeatedly to resign by journalists in recent weeks. He has also been sharply criticized by clerics and Catholic associations for his handling of abuse reports and cover-up allegations, according to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

The 64-year-old cardinal said: “We are still in talks with the Federal Government’s Independent Commissioner for Dealing with Sexual Abuse of Minors, Johann-Wilhelm Rörig, and we are also honoring the agreement between the bishops’ conference and Mr. Rörig.”

“We are setting up an independent commission that will receive the Gercke Report as well as the much-debated report from the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl.”

He added: “We will bring everything to light, I will keep my promise.”

In January 2019, the archdiocese commissioned Westpfahl Spilker Wastl to examine relevant personnel files from 1975 onwards to determine “which personal, systemic or structural deficits were responsible in the past for incidents of sexual abuse being covered up or not being punished consistently.”

After lawyers advising the archdiocese raised concerns about “methodological deficiencies” in the law firm’s study, Woelki commissioned Cologne-based criminal law expert Professor Björn Gercke to write a new report.

Cardinal Woelki has faced a wave of criticism — both in the German media and from local Church representatives — for not publishing the original report. But he told the newspaper that he had not personally read the first study either. 

“We made mistakes, we lost trust, I understand the impatience,” he commented.

The cardinal said that he understood the sometimes vehement criticism, but asked for patience. 

Regarding the case of a cleric only identified as “Pastor O.” due to German privacy laws, in which the cardinal is personally accused of not having passed information on to Rome, Cardinal Woelki said: “I have examined my conscience and I am personally convinced that I have behaved correctly.”

He explained that both Gercke and the Vatican were looking into his handling of the case. Cardinal Woelki asked Pope Francis in December to review the cover-up allegation against him.

The central question is whether Cardinal Woelki should have launched a canonical preliminary investigation into the actions of “Pastor O.” and reported the result to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees the handling of abuse cases worldwide.

The archdiocese said that “Pastor O,” now deceased, was not able to be questioned at the time due to his poor health. He had suffered a second stroke and had advanced dementia.

The archdiocese added that a preliminary investigation was also impossible “because the potentially affected person expressly did not want to help clarify the matter, did not want Pastor O. to be confronted, and neither did other possibilities for clarification, such as witnesses were present.” 

Cardinal Woelki added that as Archbishop of Cologne he wanted to “take moral responsibility for suffering caused by those in charge in the archdiocese.”