Statement before the district court: Cardinal Woelki rejects allegations

As of: 03/28/2023 7:54 p.m

The Archbishop of Cologne, Woelki, testified before the Cologne district court in the legal dispute against the Axel Springer publishing house. The BILD newspaper reported incorrectly about him, he says.

The cardinal arrives by bicycle twenty minutes before his court date. He is immediately received by a whole army of cameramen and photographers. Then he gives a brief statement. Cardinal Woelki says he wants to explain why the BILD newspaper reported incorrectly about him. If they want to testify, the judge asks: “Yes, yes of course,” assures Woelki.

“No Knowledge of Documents”

Before the 28th Civil Chamber, which is responsible for press matters and chaired by Judge Dirk Eßer da Silva, Woelki affirmed that he had no knowledge of either document. At the time, he only heard rumors that the priest had had sexual contact with a 16-year-old prostitute a long time ago and was not punishable, as well as “other rumours”.

To this day, he himself has not seen the personnel file or held it in his hands. And to this day he has not taken note of the originals of the documents in question, not even from the files on the ongoing court proceedings.

Cardinal Woelki testifies in court

3/28/2023 7:20 p.m

Secretary charged Woelki

The district court Cologne had decided at the beginning of March to question the archbishop personally as a party, after two witnesses had been heard beforehand. Specifically, the question is whether Woelki knew of two documents in the personal file of the priest he promoted. Once a warning letter in which the police advised that the man be used in an area with no contact with children and young people. As well as a record of a conversation about an exchange with the former HR manager of the Archdiocese of Cologne.

The former secretary of Woelki’s predecessor, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, testified that she had already informed Woelki around 2010, when he was auxiliary bishop in Cologne, about the priest’s sauna visits with acolytes or the purchase of underpants with penis depictions during a trip to Rome informed.

When asked about this, Woelki said in court that he could not remember this phone call. “For me, this conversation doesn’t exist.” Since the woman’s testimony, the Cologne public prosecutor’s office has been investigating Woelki on suspicion of false testimony. The priest concerned reported to the secretary for unsworn false statements.

Woelki allegedly knew nothing

Woelki also emphasizes that he did not see a 2015 compilation of documents about the priest. The former abuse officer of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Oliver Vogt, reported this as a witness.

Nobody spoke to him about the police warning until 2017, otherwise he would have remembered it and not promoted this priest. Only later did he find out that his predecessor, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, had sanctioned the clergyman for the incident with the prostitute.

Woelki: The priest did a good job

Woelki reports that he heard about the rumors during a consultation at the personnel conference. In order to clarify them, the promotion had been adjourned. After the rumors were not confirmed as such, he agreed to the promotion. His future superior, Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp, and the head of the church court at the time, Günter Assenmacher, had campaigned for this.

The leading employees in the human resources department had expressed themselves critically. The incident with the prostitute from 2001 was a long time ago and the priest did a good job, according to Woelki. “You have to be able to forgive and get a point.” In the meantime, there is a canonical judgment that the rumors have nothing to do with it. The public prosecutor’s office also stopped all investigations against the priest.

Prosecutors sat in the audience

A prosecutor is also in the audience. Because criminal investigations have been underway against Woelki since November 2022. The allegation of false affidavit is being investigated. It is about the question of when Woelki knew about allegations of abuse against the former Sternsinger boss Winfried Pilz. Woelki has also rejected all allegations in this case.

A decision in the process is expected to be announced on April 26th.

Woelki’s future still uncertain

Woelki is accused of cover-up in connection with the Catholic abuse scandal Church been criticized for a long time. The Pope has not yet decided on a resignation request that Woelki sent to the Vatican last year.

In November 2022, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, Georg Bätzing, made it clear to Pope Francis that the situation was “intolerable” and the pressure in Germany “cannot be endured any longer”.

We are also reporting on this topic today in the local time at 7:30 p.m. on WDR television and in the radio station WDR2.


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