In terms of area, it is the largest diocese in Germany and has been headed by Stefan Heße since 2015: Hamburg is part of his administrative area, as is Schleswig-Holstein and, from the northeast, the state of Mecklenburg. Previously, the native of Cologne was Vicar General of the Archdiocese on the Rhine in his hometown and head of personnel for around 65,000 full-time church people. During this activity, the now 54-year-old is said to have insufficiently informed about cases of sexual abuse. In a brochure for which he was responsible and which was distributed in all Cologne Catholic churches in 2012 with the title “On Incidents of Sexual Abuse”, only five priests were mentioned as accused of such acts in the Archdiocese of Cologne. However, the study published by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 speaks against this, which states: From 1946 to 2014, 87 clergy were accused of abuse in this area.
Until days ago, the brochure with the far lower number of accused could be found on the archbishopric’s website, according to the Catholic online magazine “Church and Life”. “From today’s perspective, the brochure is a first, but unsuccessful, attempt to deal with the subject of abuse,” quoted Heße magazine. He admits that it was “certainly an oversight” that not all cases identified at the time were listed.
On the day the brochure disappeared from the Internet, the “Bild” newspaper reported on the charges brought by the Cologne public prosecutor at the end of July against a priest now 69 years old. He is said to have sexually abused his three nieces, who were then between six and 13 years old, several times a week from 1993 to 1999. He had made a confession to the church authorities in Cologne. With Heße’s consent, only a handwritten note was written about it. Both this matter and the cover-up allegation against Heße had recently become public through media reports on a discussion evening organized by the Archdiocese of Hamburg on October 15 in Rostock on the subject of “Power and the separation of powers in the Church”. On that occasion, the archbishop clearly denied the claim that he had given his consent to the handwritten confession note.
Regarding his behavior in relation to abuse cases, he stated that he had not covered up anything. “I would claim that I acted to the best of my knowledge and belief to clear up these issues and, above all, to help those affected.” From the ranks of those affected, the demand can be heard that Heße should resign from his position Hamburg resign. Matthias Katsch from the “Eckiger Tisch” association for the victims of sexual abuse emphasizes: “If Heße does not resign, then that would be proof for me that the Catholic Church in Germany has not learned anything and that one cannot trust that it has now been initiated Work-up efforts lead to some positive result «.