Cologne Catholic Church holds penance service for sexual abuse

The German Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne on Thursday held a penance service for cases of clergy sexual abuse, saying the ritual was not an absolution for the perpetrators but an “admission of guilt”.

The German Catholic Church’s handling of reports of sexual abuse has sparked a crisis in Cologne, where the Archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, took a “spiritual time out” on the advice of Pope Francis.

The Archdiocesan Acting Administrator, Auxiliary Bishop Rolf Steinhaeuser, led the service on Thursday.

“A large number of crimes of sexualized violence against parishes have been committed by priests and other church employees in our diocese,” Steinhaeuser said during the service at Cologne Cathedral.

The auxiliary bishop said that as the current head of the archdiocese, he is the “head of the guilty organization of the Archdiocese of Cologne,” German news agency dpa reported.

“This service does not end with forgiveness,” said Steinhaeuser. “We cannot absolve ourselves. We also do not ask forgiveness from those affected, to make us feel better.” On the contrary, he said, the service was intended as “an admission of guilt, a remembrance of those affected, an intercession.”

Woelki, the Archbishop of Cologne, has become a figure that deeply divides the German Church.

In September, Pope Francis decided to leave Woelki in power despite massive criticism over his handling of the church’s sexual abuse scandal. Rather, the pontiff granted the cardinal a “spiritual delay” of several months after making “major errors” in communication. The break runs from mid-October to early March.

A report commissioned by Woelki and released in March revealed 75 cases in which eight senior officials – including his late predecessor – neglected their duties to monitor, report or sanction cases of alleged abuse by clergy and lay employees. of the church, and failed to care for the victims.

Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse, previously a senior church official in Cologne, has been charged with 11 cases of dereliction of duty. Hesse offered her resignation to Francois, who rejected it last week.

The report absolved Woelki himself of any breach of his legal obligations to victims of abuse. He later said he made mistakes in previous cases involving allegations of sexual abuse, but made it clear that he had no intention of resigning.

Woelki had previously infuriated many local Catholics by citing legal problems to withhold an initial report on the reaction of local church officials when priests were accused of sexual abuse. He commissioned the second report and a German law firm produced an 800-page investigation.

Karl Haucke, 71, who was sexually assaulted for several years at a Catholic boarding school, was unimpressed with the church’s penance service. Haucke demonstrated outside Cologne Cathedral on Thursday with several other people.

He said the church invited him to attend the service but he refused to attend.

“It is inhumane to speak to me claiming repentance,” Haucke told The Associated Press. “Of course, I have a choice to go or not, but just bringing it up can bring people back to their memories. It’s not for the church to do that.

Haucke suggested that it would have made more sense to offer victims a space for a true investigation into the abuse.

“An alternative would have been for those who do not want to act according to the rituals of the church to offer a different space on this commemorative occasion,” he said. “A neutral space where it is not about repentance and prayer, but serious interaction, investigation and understanding.


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