The Pope has not requested the resignation of the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki but has instead granted him a break from his duties from the end of October until the start of Lent next year.
An administrator has been appointed to run the archdiocese while he is absent.
In March, a second report into abuse in the Cologne archdiocese cleared Cardinal Woelki of failing to do his duty but found other senior churchmen to be guilty. The report was finally published after months of turmoil in the Cologne archdiocese due to Cardinal Woelki’s refusal to publish the first abuse report he had commissioned from a Munich law firm.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said: “In order to initiate a process of reconciliation and renewal in the Archdiocese of Cologne, Pope Francis is granting the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, a spiritual break from mid-October until the beginning of Lent next year.”
In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff will resume his service as auxiliary bishop in Cologne and auxiliary bishop Dr Dominikus Schwaderlapp will also come back into service, but initially take a year of pastoral work in Kenya.
Bishop Bätzing added: “I was informed of these decisions this morning by the Apostolic Nuncio. At our autumn general assembly, which ended yesterday, I was not aware of these developments.
“I accept the decisions of the Holy Father and hope that the process of reconciliation will begin in the Archdiocese of Cologne. I am unable to judge whether this can lead to a fundamentally changed situation within a few months. On my part, I will support the Apostolic Administrator appointed by Pope Francis, Auxiliary Bishop Rolf Steinhäuser, to the best of my ability.”
He continued: “Rome is clearly trying to use these decisions to bring movement into the serious crisis situation with regard to the trust in the leadership of the episcopal office, which is a heavy burden on the Archdiocese of Cologne and radiates far beyond that on the Church in our country. The decision in favour of Cardinal Woelki reminds me in some ways of the Roman approach with regard to my predecessor in Limburg.
“What is said in the note on the determination of Cardinal Woelki’s will to come to terms with it is on the one hand true, on the other hand it leaves many of those affected perplexed and injured in view of the situation that has arisen. It also affects other dioceses that have already begun to come to terms with it in such a way that they have been able to contribute to a large extent to renewal and reconciliation.
“The decisions from Rome will be discussed very controversially. Much now depends on how Cardinal Woelki will organise the break. It needs – also from him – offers of discussion and mediation in order to find opportunities and perspectives. It is therefore good if he is given freedom in which the day-to-day business can be regulated by the Apostolic Administrator. I ask the faithful of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Cardinal Woelki, Auxiliary Bishop Steinhäuser and all full-time and honorary workers, especially in pastoral care, a lot of strength, determination and the necessary patience for the path that is now beginning. "