Tensions mount in German Catholic Church over abuse report

By: AFP      Published: 10:45 PM, 29 Jan, 2021
Tensions mount in German Catholic Church over abuse report

Pressure increased Friday on a powerful German Catholic archbishop who has for months blocked the publication of a report about alleged sexual abuse of minors by members of his diocese.

In a rare public rebuke, the diocese council of the western city of Cologne, which groups clergy and laypeople, sharply criticised Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, saying he had "completely failed as a moral authority".  

"We find ourselves in the biggest crisis that the Church has ever experienced," Tim Kurzbach, head of the council, said in a statement.

"Those responsible must finally also take responsibility. We need clarity now. Otherwise we have no chance of getting out of this misery." 

Woelki, a conservative who has resisted Church reform efforts, has faced criticism for months for refusing to allow the publication of an independent study on abuse committed by clergy in his diocese, the country's largest, between 1975 and 2018.

Victims have expressed anger and disappointment about his stance.

Woelki has justified his decision by citing a right to privacy of the alleged perpetrators accused in the report, carried out by a Munich law firm, and what he called a lack of independence on the part of some researchers.   

In early November, the diocese of the western city of Aachen published its own study prepared by the same law firm.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

However its authors said the actual number of victims was almost certainly much higher. 

The revelations, which mirror paedophile scandals in Australia, Chile, France, Ireland and the United States, prompted Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a prominent reformer, to apologise on behalf of the German Catholic Church.

The Church currently pays victims an average sum of 5,000 euros ($6,067) "in recognition of their suffering", as well as covering their therapy fees.