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Roman Catholic anger in Germany after Vatican investigation clears Archbishop of allegations

01 October 2021


The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, during a press conference, last Friday

The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, during a press conference, last Friday

MANY Roman Catholics in Germany were angered last Friday when the Pope decided to send the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, on a six-month “spiritual sabbatical”.

A Vatican investigation had found that Cardinal Woelki had done nothing illegal in his handling of sexual-abuse allegations against clergy in his diocese.

The Pope’s decision followed a week in which RC lay organisations and sexual-abuse-victim advisory councils had been demonstrating against what they regard as the slow pace of reform. They protested and set up information stands in front of the palace in Fulda where the 27 German RC bishops were holding their annual autumn assembly.

The organisation We Are Church said that the Vatican decision “will not contribute to the resolution of the complex Cologne conflict situation, but quite the opposite will lead to an aggravation and further prolongation. With this decision of Rome, the urgently needed process of reconciliation and renewal will be prevented.”

The Vatican decision also seems to have incurred disapproval from groups traditionally closer to the official RC Church.

The Catholic Women’s Association of Germany posted on Twitter: “With great astonishment we note that Pope Francis has complied with the request of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, of the Cologne Diocese to take a spiritual sabbatical. There has been enough time for reflection already!” The organisation is the largest RC women’s federation, and one of the largest women’s organisations in Germany: it has about 400,000 members.

The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Dr Thomas Sternberg, issued a statement on Friday, which said: “I cannot understand the Vatican decision to keep Cardinal Woelki in office. . . The instrument of a period of sabbatical leave is not enough. It is completely unclear what the end of such a sabbatical might be, and it is not suitable for restoring lost trust.”


LATER this week, Dr Sternberg will co-chair the Second Synodal Path Assembly, together with the President of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Bishop of Limburg, Dr Georg Bätzing.

The reform project, which was launched in January 2020, will meet in Frankfurt, where the 230 member assembly will discuss and vote on 16 input papers.

Aware of the strong feelings, Dr Bätzing, on Monday evening, used his speech at the annual St Michael’s reception for the political class, in Berlin, to call for courageous change in both Church and society.

In the presence of religious leaders and politicians, including, for the last time, Chancellor Angela Merkel, he said: “The findings on the extent of sexual and spiritual abuse in the Catholic Church have led to a profound loss of trust in large parts of the population.”

He spoke of a “turning point” and a “creeping loss of relevance” of the RC Church, and criticised the Vatican’s stance on refusing blessings for same-sex couples, and the way in which it dealt with German bishops involved in covering up sexual abuse in their dioceses.

“While, for example, comprehensive reforms and changes are demanded within the framework of the Synodal Path,” he said, “there are admonishing words or clarifications from the Roman Curia on questions that are considered to have been answered long ago in our enlightened and freedom-loving society, and which thus increase the difficulty for many faithful and many priests of arguing the case.”

Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
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