By Philip Pullella and Douglas Busvine
ROME / BERLIN, September 24 (Reuters) – The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cologne will take a “spiritual downtime” of his duties after making serious mistakes in a crisis of clerical sexual abuse, but will retain his post, the Vatican said on Friday.
Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, 65, had faced criticism for his handling of allegations of child sexual abuse in the past, particularly for putting aside a report on wrongdoing by priests in due to unspecified methodological shortcomings.
It was clear Woelki needed “time to reflect, renew and reconcile,” Vatican said after talks between Pope Francis and Woelki over crisis that rocked the church in Germany and follows many similar scandals around the world.
“This led Pope Francis to respond to Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s wish for a spiritual break,” the Holy See said in a statement.
Rome’s announcement aimed to resolve a long-standing scandal that has rocked the wealthiest national branch of the Catholic Church, dividing its leaders and eroding a herd of more than 20 million people.
Yet, coming just after a three-day meeting of German bishops who sought to chart a way out of the crisis, the Holy See’s statement surprised the chair of the meeting.
Responding to the Vatican statement, Bishop Georg Baetzing said he only learned of Pope Francis’ decision on Friday. He said he didn’t know about Thursday – the last day of the fall episcopal convention.
“I accept the decisions of the Holy Father and I hope that the process of reconciliation will begin in the Archdiocese of Cologne,” Baetzing said in a statement.
“I am unable to judge whether this may lead to a fundamental change in the situation over the next few months.”
FACT RESEARCH MISSION
Pope in may shipped two high-ranking foreign bishops to investigate the Archbishop of Cologne’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse in Germany’s largest archdiocese.
In what was interpreted at the time as a reproach, liberal Cardinal Reinhard Marx then offered to resign from his post as Archbishop of Munich, saying he should share responsibility for sexual abuse by clerics in the pass.
The Vatican said there was no evidence Woelki broke the law regarding cases of sexual abuse.
“Nonetheless, he made serious errors in his approach to the issue of dealing with this issue, especially in the area of communication,” he said. “This has largely contributed to the crisis of confidence which has shaken many of the faithful.”
In a statement released by his office, Woelki thanked Francis while acknowledging that trust had been lost in recent months. He would devote himself to contemplation and prayer through a time out until March 1.
“I walk this path with a clear message from the Holy Father that we have provided serious and complete information and that we have not concealed anything,” Woelki said, echoing previous denials of wrongdoing.
“I would like to ask you to pray for the Archdiocese and for me in the weeks to come. I also promise you my fervent prayer.”
(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Douglas Busvine, editing by Kirsti Knolle and Nick Macfie)
(([email protected]; +49 30 220 133 562;))
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.