An attempt by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s archdiocese to defuse a crisis precipitated by Woelki’s refusal to publish a report on abuse in the archdiocese has backfired dramatically. In 2018 Woelki commissioned a Munich law firm to conduct an independent investigation and a detailed written report on how those responsible in the archdiocese had handled cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests. The cardinal promised that names would be published in the report.
When the report was finished at the end of October 2020, however, Woelki refused to publish it. He had consulted several lawyers, he said, who had warned him that the report had “methodical shortcomings”. He has since ordered a new report from a Cologne law firm that is due out in March.
On 4 January, however, the archdiocese invited eight selected journalists to a background discussion on the Munich report. They would have an opportunity to read the report, they were told, but warned that all names in the report had been redacted and that they would not be allowed make any copies.
On arrival, they were first of all asked to sign a confidentiality agreement which stated: “The journalist pledges to remain completely silent regarding the report presented to him or her.”
All eight refused to sign and the discussion was broken off.
Signing the agreement “would have meant that one could not report anything one had obtained from other sources as one would have had to prove that one had not obtained it from the background discussion”, Joachim Frank, chairman of the German Catholic Publicists and chief correspondent of the DuMont media group, who was one of the eight journalists, told Deutschlandfunk.
Meanwhile Cologne archdiocese has threatened Fr Klaus Koltermann with consequences under the employment law for demanding that Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki step down.
Koltermann, who is parish priest of a group of parishes in the archdiocese near Düsseldorf, told the Neuss-Grevenbroicher Zeitung that he would like to join the many people who were calling for Woelki to step down, as the cardinal had shown no signs of genuine remorse in a tentative apology he made on Christmas Eve regarding the abuse crisis in the diocese.
In his letter to Fr Koltermann, vicar-general Fr Mike Kolb stated that “standing up against the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Cologne or any of its officials in public” was incompatible with the duties of loyalty. Koltermann’s “serious violations” could “possibly result in [disciplinary] action”, Kolb’s letter to Koltermann said according to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeigerof 8 January.
Koltermann has denied he did anything to harm the Church.
Woelki has been accused of hushing up the case of a priest who sexually abused a six-year-old boy in the 1970s and appealed to Pope Francis to judge his case.