German diocese faces moment of truth in abuse crisis

Berlin, March 18 (AFP/APP): Faced with accusations of trying to cover up sexual violence in Germany’s most powerful Roman Catholic diocese, the archbishop of Cologne will publish Thursday a long-awaited report on abuse by clergy.

An attorney mandated by the Church, Bjoern Gercke, will unveil his independent investigation at 0900 GMT which promises a thorough reckoning with molestation of minors by priests, including the names of alleged abusers. Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, a conservative who has long resisted Church reform efforts, has not ruled out stepping down if the report finds him guilty of wrongdoing.

Woelki had faced a months-long firestorm of protest for refusing to allow the publication of an earlier study on abuse committed by clergy in his diocese, the country’s largest, between 1975 and 2018.

Woelki 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.

His approach was branded “a disaster” as recently as late February by Georg Baetzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, in a blistering public statement. Media reports ahead of the new report’s release said it identifies around 200 abusers of minors — priests or laypeople working for the Church — and some 300 victims, twice as many as originally estimated. Gercke told regional daily Rheinische Post he found “severe failings” by Church leadership in several cases in their dealings with known abusers.

Woelki said in early March he would immediately “temporarily suspend, if necessary, people cited in the report” before taking more concrete measures to address its findings next week. And he expressed willingness to throw his weight behind an honest accounting of crimes committed within the Church.

“Only the truth can set us free from the shadows of the past,” he said. The abuse scandal returns to the headlines just as the Catholic Church has made small steps toward redressing decades of abuse and coverups. ”

The tragedy of Cologne regarding the report and the archbishop overshadowed this aspect” of progress made, the government commissioner on child sexual abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Roerig, said recently.

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