Vultures circle after raid on Archdiocese of Cologne and its Cardinal. Agenda-driven ecclesiastical politics spills into the court.

After raid in the Archdiocese of Cologne

"Position of Cologne cardinal is no longer tenable"

After a raid by the Public Prosecutor's Office which included the Archbishop's residence of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the calls for his resignation are getting louder again: from canon lawyers, theologians and the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics.

The official announcement of the Archbishopric of Cologne is meagre: the public prosecutor's office in Cologne had searched business premises of the Archbishopric of Cologne on Tuesday and will try to determine whether the accusation of perjury against Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki can be proven by inspecting business documents and e-mails. Until then, the Archdiocese asks the public "not to take an open-ended investigation as an opportunity to pronounce preliminary convictions".

Of course, the presumption of innocence also applies in this case. And yet the pictures have their own effect: how a representative of the public prosecutor's office stands behind the high gate of the archbishop's house in front of Woelki in civilian clothes at 8 o'clock on Tuesday morning. Although the suspicion of perjury against the archbishop has been widely and often reported, it is these pictures that have a devastating effect.



The 95th Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cologne

Archbishop Cardinal Woelki is the 95th bishop of the Archdiocese of Cologne. He was born in Cologne on 18 August 1956. He was ordained priest in Cologne in 1985, where he was also auxiliary bishop from 2003-2011. Woelki has been Archbishop of Cologne since 2014.

Berlin From 2011 to 2014 he was Archbishop of Berlin. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the rank of cardinal. His heraldic motto: "Nos sumus testes" (We are witnesses). (Cathcon: slightly ironic given the accusations


For the Salzburg fundamental theologian, Gregor Maria Hoff, this means: "Cardinal Woelki can no longer be held - he is the spectre of a Catholic official aura that still clings to the life thread of Papal indecision, but whose credibility has been squandered. The Catholic Church's loss of authority is manifest with the Cologne raid: in the public consciousness it stands as a criminal organisation."

What is at stake: criminal investigations on suspicion of perjury and false affirmation in lieu of an oath. Specifically, it is about the question of when Woelki knew about allegations of abuse against a Düsseldorf priest he had promoted as well as the former head of the carol singers, Winfried Pilz. For example, Cardinal Woelki claims to have learned more details about the abuse allegations against the priest only in March of this year, although a letter Woelki sent to the Vatican in 2018 is said to have listed sexual assaults.

The raid is intended to seize documents and internal diocesan correspondence relating to the events, among other things, in the rooms of the Vicariate General, the Official offices and the Archbishop's House. About 30 police officers and four public prosecutors were involved in the operation.

According to Thomas Schüller, an ecclesiastical lawyer from Münster, investigations carried out by judicial order are only possible if there are reasonable grounds for a criminal offence. This "unique process" in Germany showed that the state prosecution authorities were following up on recognisable indications of a criminal offence. "Whether Rome will react to this is open. According to secular standards, the Cologne cardinal is no longer tenable. According to ecclesiastical custom, it is possible that the Pope, who is completely resistant to consultation in this matter, will be stubborn and now more than ever not accept a resignation, because this could be interpreted as a preliminary condemnation," the canon lawyer told our editorial staff. "It is now up to Woelki to decide for himself whether he pulls the ripcord. However, his behaviour so far shows that he is glued to his bishop's chair and puts his personal well-being above that of the Archdiocese of Cologne. That is the real drama," said Schüller.

The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, is also unable to predict when the Pope will act. "Together with many people, we would have expected his decision in the interest of a credible German Church some time ago. The entire Catholic Church is damaged. The new fatal signal from Cologne is: coming to terms with the past will only succeed if public prosecutors intervene," she told our editorial team.

What will happen next? First of all, it will take several weeks to sift through and process the seized documents. But so far, according to the theologian Hoff, Woelki "has more or less been able to get out of all the legal calamities - which certainly did not consolidate his moral position, for example, in the case of the ecclesiastical promotion of an abusive priest".

Now, however, the suspicion of perjury is about a letter that Woelki seems to have signed and sent to Rome with a recognisable note showing knowledge about the facts of an abuse case.

According to Hoff, the Cologne exculpatory clause is likely to be drawn up as before: The cardinal only signed, but did not read anything and therefore knew nothing. It may be, says the theologian, that Woelki will get away with it legally once again; that also depends on what the judicial authorities will find. "But morally that is not enough," says Hoff: "The cardinal's authority has long since been gambled away. But now it's becoming clear: the public can't believe that Woelki would sign without knowing what he's getting up to in a case like this. And if he does, he is neither fulfilling his responsibility towards the people affected by abuse - which he always emphasises so much - nor can he claim that episcopal ultimate responsibility which he still emphasised last time when it was a matter of releasing the funds for the Synodal Committee."

But of course, the "Woelki personnel case" is above all about uncovering and coming to terms with the abuse scandal as well as the appropriate recognition of the suffering of those affected. Despite all the spectacular measures, it is important never to lose sight of them. And it must be remembered that systemic causes were decisive in making the terrible deeds possible.

Nevertheless, something has changed with yesterday, as Bonn church law expert Norbert Lüdecke points out: if a churchman testifies falsely under oath before a regional court, that is not an internal church matter. State law must apply without regard to the person. "One can doubt whether this has always been the case for churchmen. Perhaps what is new is that previous restraints on the state's bite have come to an end. That would be nothing more than right," Lüdecke told our editorial staff.