The cardinal's reforms

The cardinal's reforms

Cardinal Woelki reorganizes the way sexual abuse is dealt with in the Archdiocese of Cologne. Does he thus clear the way for a reform of worldwide church law? A guest commentary by the editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency.

Following the publication of the Gercke report on the handling of sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki outlined a different approach to internal church reforms. Unlike the protagonists at Maria 2.0 and other ecclesiastical reform movements, Woelki merely relies on a consistent reform of ecclesiastical law and ecclesiastical administration.

He is skeptical about a change in the dogmatic and moral theological foundations of the church, as many theologians and even some bishops are calling for. He does not want to completely turn the church system upside down, but "only" improve it and make it less prone to error.

In his system-immanent reform efforts, however, he goes so far as to publicly oppose the applicable universal canon law and thus provoke opposition from Rome: He orders that the regular destruction of personnel files in the archdiocese of Cologne, as prescribed by the universal church, no longer be practiced with immediate effect.

And, more importantly, he calls for a fundamental change in church criminal law, which until now has punished acts of abuse by clerics against minors and wards only as violations of the promise of celibacy. "This is a pure perpetrator perspective, this must change fundamentally," he explained on Tuesday.

"Things can't stay the way they were!"Woelki has ied a new motto for dealing with sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Cologne. The improvements announced by him and his vicar general Markus Hofmann for Cologne in file management, in priestly training, in prevention and in dealing with the accused and those affected are a first important step.

The radical reform of worldwide canon law with its antiquated provisions favoring secrecy, cover-up and disregard for victims would be the second. And here, for once, conservative and liberal reform forces from Germany could pull together against Rome to bring overdue changes on the way.

For this, however, it would be necessary to convince Woelki that he is really serious about the will to clarify and come to terms with the situation. He has at least come one step closer to this interim goal with the Gercke report and the personnel and structural consequences he has drawn from it.

Ludwig Ring-Eifel (Editor-in-Chief, Catholic News Agency)

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