The cover-up allegations against Hamburg’s Archbishop Stefan Heße in connection with cases of sexual violence are now having initial personal consequences: Heße is leaving his position as clergyman assistant to the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). He was not taking part in the general assembly beginning on Friday and would “pause”, said Heße according to participants on Thursday evening at an extraordinary online meeting of the ZdK.
The pressure on the archbishop had recently increased enormously within the ZdK: the working group of Catholic organizations in Germany (AGKOD), which has a large number of members, had previously asked Heße to rest his office. AGKOD represents 125 Catholic organizations. According to ZdK members, Heße is also said to have addressed the handling of cases of abuse in the Archdiocese of Cologne, where he was previously head of personnel and later vicar general, at the extraordinary meeting. “That is where my name comes up, of course, because I was responsible for a number of years,” participants quote. He regrets that this earlier activity and the debate is now burdening his service as spiritual assistant to the ZdK. It is very important to him that sexual abuse be dealt with. “Only the truth sets free and the truth also sets me free,” said Heße. He for himself expressly rules out any cover-up.
“Grateful for his courage”
According to the participants, ZdK President Thomas Sternberger said that he was “grateful to Heße for his courage”. He also announced a resolution by the ZdK on the subject of sexual violence, which is to be passed at the general assembly on Friday and Saturday. Sternberg’s words and the draft of the Presidium for the resolution were discussed controversially, it was said from ZdK circles. The text should be revised that night.
There are allegations against Heße from his time in Cologne: At that time he is said to have not responded appropriately to allegations against priests, he denies that. On Thursday quoted the time– Supplement “Christ und Welt” also contains a special report on the case of Pastor A., who was convicted twice for the sexual abuse of children and was still used in pastoral care.
The special report of the Munich law firm Westpfahl, Spilker, Wastl accuses the former Cologne cardinals Joseph Höffner and Joachim Meisner of “improper conduct” in the case of Pastor A. Pastor A. is now 87 years old, he worked in the dioceses of Cologne and Münster and from 2002 in the diocese of Essen. “I have blamed myself,” said Essens Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck time. When he found out about the case in early 2010 shortly after taking office, he did not have the personnel file come to him. “Otherwise I might have seen the dimension of the case.” Cardinal Woelki described the dealings with Pastor A. as a “decade-long string of serious mistakes”. Its repeated use in pastoral care – also under Woelki’s predecessor Joachim Meisner – was “absolutely irresponsible”, he said on Thursday to the Cologne church internet portal domradio.de. Responsible persons would have to be “found out and named”.
The Munich chancellery that prepared the special report on Pastor A. had also written a comprehensive report on cases of abuse throughout the archdiocese. However, this must remain under lock and key on the instructions of the Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, he justifies this with methodological deficiencies and personal rights.
The Archdiocese of Cologne switched off the university community’s website
The Archdiocese of Cologne also dealt with other questions on Wednesday: According to a report by Cologne city scoreboard the Archdiocese temporarily shut down the website of the Catholic University Community of Cologne (KHG). The reason is a position paper in which the KHG criticizes, among other things, the appearance of church officials as “unbearable” and calls for a consistent treatment of abusers.
The Archdiocese announced that it was interested in a critical discussion, but that no objective dialogue was possible on the basis of this paper. The KHG employees were threatened with consequences under labor law. The page was accessible again on Thursday, but without a position paper. But that can still be found: The Evangelical University Community has published it under a solidarity link.