German Catholic archbishop offers to resign from office after abuse report findings

CNA Staff, Mar 18, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A German Catholic archbishop announced on Thursday that he was offering his resignation to Pope Francis and requesting “immediate release” from all duties.

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg made his brief declaration live on YouTube March 18, saying: “I am of the firm conviction that taking responsibility is part of our duty to actively deal with this dark chapter in the best possible way and to move towards a better future for everyone, first and foremost for the victims themselves.”

“I have never participated in any cover-up. Nevertheless, I am willing to bear my share of responsibility for the failure of the system,” Heße said.

The archbishop was in charge of pastoral personnel in the Archdiocese of Cologne from 2006 to 2012. He served as vicar general from 2012 to 2015 before being ordained as archbishop of Hamburg on March 14, 2015.

A long-awaited report published on Thursday raised serious concerns about Heße’s handling of several cases during his time in Cologne.

The 800-page Gercke Report, known as the “Independent Investigation into the Handling of Sexualized Violence in the Archdiocese of Cologne,” covers the period from 1975 to 2018 and examines 236 files in detail to identify failures and violations of the law, as well as those responsible for them.

Heße stands accused of having neglected his duty in nine separate cases on 11 counts, according to the report, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German language news partner, said.

“I must, and I will, draw the consequences from my actions at the time and ultimately thus also from the breaches of duty with which I am charged. I regret very much if I have caused further suffering to those affected and their relatives as a result of my actions or my failure to act,” the archbishop said in his declaration.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, who was exonerated by the report, announced on Thursday that, as a first step, he would “temporarily release” two officials from their duties: Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp, a Cologne auxiliary bishop and former vicar general, and Günter Assenmacher, an archdiocesan official.

Gercke’s report identified concerns about both men’s handling of abuse cases and they will remain suspended until the allegations have been clarified.

The archdiocese will hold a second press conference on March 23 at which Woelki will comment in more detail on his reaction to the report, with possible further consequences for officials criticized in the report.

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