16 February 2021, The Tablet

Rhineland Protestants add to pressure on Cardinal Woelki 

Rhineland Protestants add to pressure on Cardinal Woelki 

Cardinal Woelki

As the crisis in the archdiocese of Cologne continues, with pressure unabated on Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki to act decisively in the face of abuse allegations, Protestants are joining Catholics in walking away from the Church.

The number of Catholics leaving, centring on Cologne, has reached a record 1,000 a month. But the Cologne archdiocese’s “sluggish” efforts to clear up the abuse scandal were also driving Protestants out of the Church, President Manfred Rekowski of the Protestant Church in the Rhineland told the Protestant news service epdon 13 February. 

“There is such a thing as a joint ecumenical liability. It is stressful and I hope things will be cleared up soon”, Renkowski said. “Anything that gives the impression of being obscure or that the Church has only little interest in clearing up abuse is fatal.”

A number of Protestants had asked him to cancel a planned ecumenical service with Cardinal Woelki on 20 February as a sign of solidarity with the Catholic faithful but he had refused. “A church service is not a signal of support for church political decisions,” he emphasised.

“At the moment, trust in the Church in the archdiocese of Cologne is being destroyed to an unprecedented extent,” the former German ambassador to the Holy See from 2014 -2018, Annette Schavan, told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Even very committed Catholics are losing faith in the Church as the basis for trust is breaking away,” she said. 

Meanwhile Cardinal Woelki announced that he intends to spend time thinking about how to improve communication in the archdiocese. “I intend to spend Lent thinking about how we can talk to each other and keep in touch even if we have opposing views. I would like to listen to people even more than I have done up to now,” he told domradio.deon 14 February, three days before Ash Wednesday.

The Cologne crisis was triggered by the cardinal’s refusal to publish the report he commissioned on how priestly sexual abuse had been handled in the archdiocese. In December, he asked Pope Francis to examine the accusations made against him. He has pledged to issue a new report on the investigation’s findings on 18 March, and that it will “name those responsible”. 

He is also being faulted for not investigating serious allegations against a Düsseldorf priest alleged to have abused a boy of kindergarten age in the late 1970s. After he was appointed Archbishop of Cologne in 2014, he decided not to notify Rome, as the priest, who has since died, was suffering from advanced dementia.

Meanwhile meetings of the “synodal pathway” initiated by the German bishops to discuss and devise church reforms are proceeding and a text for one of the four forums they set up, on reforming power structures. has been leaked to the press. 

The document reportedly calls for mandatory priestly celibacy to be reconsidered, so that “different pastoral situations can be responded to in different ways locally.” The synodal path, it concludes, should also vote on the issue of women’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood. Cardinal Woelki has been an outspoken critic of the path within the German hierarchy, on the grounds that it could lead to a German national church.

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