The anger at Cologne Archbishop Cardinal Woelki is enormous. But does it not exceed long the reasonable measure, which also the fact situation gives away? This is what the FAZ editor Christian Geyer asks.
Interviewer: They compare quite concretely the clearing-up behavior of the dioceses Cologne and Berlin. And there you come to an astonishing conclusion. How does that look?
Christian Geyer (FAZ editor): Oh, I was just wondering why, for example, in Berlin there is not such vehement criticism of the archdiocese's approach to clarification as there is in Cologne, with waves of resignations and so forth. Almost four weeks ago, the expert opinion on the processing of sexual abuse was presented in Berlin; such expert opinions have been commissioned by various dioceses in the meantime.
Well, and in Berlin a law firm then published a work more than six hundred pages thick, in which, however, no less than four hundred pages of personal descriptions remained unpublished. So the entire Part C of Archbishop Koch has been kept under lock and key, if you will, the part that is under the heading, or rather is not there now: "Summarized contents of the personnel files of accused clerics in the (arch)diocese since 1946 in chronological order of the periods of the accusations".
This part remains invisible to the public, and, as they say, "for reasons of personality protection, the risk of retraumatization of those affected and to avoid a voyeuristic presentation". And the public, the inner-church as well as the secular, has swallowed this, if I see right, by and large without objection. There was no outcry, since one submitted to the legal logic, of which one does not want to know anything in Cologne. In other words, one lets the archbishop of Berlin get away with what one holds against the archbishop of Cologne. That is not self-evident, it raises questions.
Interviewer: In Berlin, no prere seems to have built up with regard to the time frame for further clarification. Or is the impression deceiving?
Geyer: No, this also corresponds to my impression. The Berlin archdiocese seems to feel relieved of the prere of deadlines, which was initially self-imposed in the case of the Cologne procedure, like so many others, in an almost tantalizing way. Let me put it this way: There are deeply relaxed enlightened people at work. While the entire archdiocese of Cologne is now looking at the 18. While the public is eagerly awaiting the publication of the new expert report on March 3, people in Berlin have lost their cool.
One wants to let the part C kept under lock and key first of all a six-headed commission of priests and laymen for the internal church reappraisal, it says there. "Your task is to evaluate where things have been covered up, neglected, dragged out or not acted upon properly, and to name possible consequences," explained the Berlin vicar general. There the results of the expert's assessment are filtered and adjusted thus only once again within the church, and if then sometime once the gentleman cook decisions – which kind? – meets under, as it is called, "consideration of the group of six", then one will communicate these decisions together, said the vicar general.
So a procedure in which, by definition, no communication problem can arise at all, such a problem was, as it were, defined from the outset, because in the end, it is rightly understood, things are placed in the informed discretion of Archbishop Koch as the supreme communicator. That there was no flame of protest, I find really amazing, at least if you compare the situation in Berlin with the standards applied in Cologne. Only Mr. Katsch from the "Eckiger Tisch" initiative of those affected has spoken out in a fundamentally critical manner, stating with regard to Berlin: "This procedure leads the effort to clarify matters ad absurdum."
Interviewer: So now, with the same vehemence with which one demands in Cologne to publish the file, one could also demand in Berlin: "Publish the file, Archbishop Koch!" Why does one not do this?
Geyer: You ask me too much. For whatever reason, people in Berlin have come to terms with the legal circumstances, or rather: they at least accept them, as well as the decision to consider such legal considerations as decisive and to base the investigation on them. Different in Cologne. There one seems, pointedly said, downright disgusted by concepts like personality right and expression-legal reservations etc.
I just find it striking that there is this public unequal treatment. Woelki, like Koch, insists on the observance of standards of personal rights, but both do it with completely different effects. Of course, this is done in the archdiocese of Cologne in a way that, according to the cardinal's own error analysis, is an absurdity. You can't promise the most brutal possible clarification – "without taboos," as the Cologne vicar general put it so beautifully as "unjuristically" a little more than a year ago – and then twice fail to deliver, twice flub the presentation.
This is, whatever else it may be, highly unprofessional, technically wrong, and indeed one can't get out of shaking one's head when such mismanagement of ecclesiastical apparatus is even under the sign of enlightenment. But all this does not change the crucial point that in Berlin, as in Cologne, the results of expert opinions were kept under lock and key, and that this fact is judged by double standards.
It is a striking punch line when Archbishop Koch stands up and faithfully states on the record that it is "deeply annoying and deeply hurtful for the victims and for all those who are waiting for it" that his brother bishop in Cologne has initially put the Munich investigation report, which was not considered legally secure, under lock and key and replaced it with a new one. Doesn't Mr. Koch realize that he is sitting in a glass house??
Interviewer: How then can it be explained that there is so much focus on the Archbishop of Cologne? Is there much, much more to this conflict than meets the eye??
Geyer: This is of course a difficult question, because it leads very quickly into the wide field of speculations and the introspection of a motive research, where of course one soon enters impassable terrain. After all, ecclesiastical reasons are also cited, which can be considered plausible, but don't have to be. However, one does not have to rely on such industrial psychology in order to make sense of it. For obvious in a less speculative sense is what I would call the valve function – namely, the Cologne situation for the entire catchment area of the German Bishops' Conference.
In this body, one has so far successfully avoided drawing personal consequences, even in cases where political responsibility has been proven in cases of abuse. This applies, for example, to the bishops of Osnabruck, Bode, and Essen, Overbeck, who are still in office, although this evidence has been provided. Hebe in Hamburg is in limbo. Instead, the tension is discharged at Woelki, who, if I have understood correctly, has no problems with holding out the prospect of his resignation, should this proof also succeed with him.
Interviewer: So there is enormous prere. And Cologne offers itself as an outlet for this, also because Cologne, through its more than bumpy communication behavior, has done everything to ensure that it now sits in this trap?
Geyer: Well, just take the question of why the Munich report was not published until after the 18. The report is to be made available in March, i.e. after the publication of Gehrke's follow-up report, which claims to offer more legal certainty than that of the law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl (WSW), which has so far been kept under lock and key. Why can't the WSW report be published already now, after all the fuss about it?. Why has it not been published long ago?
To put it bluntly: The Archbishopric of Cologne does not manage to explain this process in such a way that even non-lawyers can understand it right away. Why, people want to know, does one not take the chance, why does one pursue the strategy of avoiding the risk of legal action through thick and thin?? What would one have to lose, it is further asked, should a church functionary incriminated in the old report actually go to court?? Then the possibly better reasons for the accusations would be given on the 18th day of the trial. March with the new expert opinion can be delivered subsequently.
That is not so wrongly thought at first at all. Why it might not be possible from a legal point of view would have to be explained conclusively. But you won't read that anywhere. The translation of legal system logic into life-world plausibility does not even seem to be attempted by the Archbishopric of Cologne, although this would obviously be essential.
Another imbalance in communication concerns the suspicion that the new report could possibly only be a softer version of the first one, i.e., in short, a de facto contribution to a cover-up. The fact that apparently the opposite is the case, has arrived if at all only very late in public. Here with you on this site, Gehrke stated in December, "Anyone who thinks, whether in public or at the archdiocese itself, that our expert opinion would be more agreeable to the archdiocese, on 18. March wonder. We go far beyond what the Munich report presents."The proof is still pending until the said date.
Interviewer: Now many are calling for the resignation of Cologne Archbishop Cardinal Woelki. But how far is that actually thought? Because if he would resign for named reasons, then other bishops would have to go for the same reasons. There is no other way to think about it, is there??
Geyer: You may be right. Whereby I would not know to say, what should be bad at it. In Poland, there are calls for the resignation of the entire episcopate right now. If Woelki would resign, which is admittedly not possible before the 18th anniversary of his death. It would be completely irrational for Woelki to resign from his position on March 1, because his own role will also be the subject of the new expert opinion that will then be published and that he is now supposedly not even aware of – so if Woelki should resign, insofar as responsibility can be attributed to him in the context of the sexual abuse, then at the same time the precedent would be set that has been missing in the catchment area of the German Bishops' Conference so far, as explained earlier.
And this then justifies the paradoxical situation. Woelki would set the hitherto missing standard for episcopal abdication of office. His resignation would make possible and probably also force the resignation of other bishops. For that would be too much unequal treatment: that one remains in office for a type of misconduct for which another would have to go. As expected, the public would not put up with that. In this respect your word of the bishop quake should not be taken out of the air.
Interviewer: The bishops, with their respective backgrounds in other dioceses as well, are treading on very thin ice when they criticize or even reprimand Cologne Archbishop Cardinal Woelki?
Geyer: Under certain circumstances yes. The bishops of Essen and Osnabruck, if they want to continue to cling to their office, would certainly be well advised to hold back on rubbishing their brother bishop Woelki. They do, if I'm not mistaken. That the Berlin bishop Koch thinks he can ignore his different glass house situation has something oblique about it, as discussed.
Cardinal Marx comes across as no less oblique when he thinks he can admonish Woelki for damage limitation without at the same time drawing consequences for himself. The Wikipedia entry states about Marx that as bishop of Trier in 2006 he failed to investigate sexual abuse by a Trier diocesan priest: "Neither the accused priest nor the victim were heard by him. Through his spokesman, he let it be known in 2019 that his omission plagued him greatly and that he would act differently today."Whether the confession of being plagued is enough in the long run?
As bishop of Trier, Marx worked for several years with Batzing, who was then rector of the Trier seminary. Can it be that in this function as Regens one did not know about cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests? One question leads to another. This is quite inevitable and could mean a jolt through the German episcopate, which not a few say is overdue. Against this background, too, it is in the nature of things, as it were, not to remain fixated on Woelki.
The interview was conducted by Johannes Schroer.