Cardinal Woelki remains – or is he? |

Cologne (dpa) – Cardinal Woelki will not answer any questions, say journalists who are waiting for him on Friday afternoon in the garden of the Archbishop’s House in downtown Cologne. He would only make a brief statement. It’s like that.

Woelki admits his mistakes, but points out that Pope Francis continues to rely on him and that he is now going to take a break for now. “Thank you for your interest.”

“Where are you going, Herr Woelki, and are you really coming back?” A journalist asks him. “It will be shown then,” he replies. “And how do you plan to regain the trust of the faithful in Cologne afterwards?” Asked a journalist. For a moment, it looks like Woelki means something else. But then he turns and walks away smiling.

Shortly before, at midday on Friday, the Apostolic Nunciature – the message from the Vatican to Berlin – distributed a message from the Holy See. A much awaited message for months. It should finally bring clarity and put an end to the crisis of confidence that has been brewing for a year in the largest German diocese. The question is: will Cardinal Woelki remain in office?

The answer is yes. Pope Francis expressly defends him against accusations of cover-up abuse. It is refuted. On the other hand, it is said in the declaration: “Nevertheless, Cardinal Woelki made major errors in approaching the question of the reassessment as a whole, in particular at the level of communication. This contributed significantly to the fact that there was a crisis of confidence in the Archdiocese which disturbed many believers. “

For the Vatican, which likes the flowery formulation, these are clear words, it is a severe criticism. In connection with the break announced from mid-October to March 1, the question arises: will Woelki really continue? There are some parallels with another sensational case in the Catholic Church in Germany: “The decision concerning Cardinal Woelki reminds me in some ways of the Roman approach of my predecessor to Limburg”, thinks the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, l bishop of Limburg. Georg Bätzing, aloud. This ruling predecessor was none other than “Protzbischof” Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. He also paused, the Pope sent an envoy – and Tebartz-van Elst never returned. He grew a beard and got a nice new job under the Italian sun.

However, canon lawyer from Münster, Thomas Schüller, does not believe this will be the case in Cologne. For him, the decisive phrase of the Vatican declaration is: “The Holy Father is counting on Cardinal Woelki. This means Woelki doesn’t have to worry. It also indicates that no outside clergyman had been appointed apostolic administrator, as is in fact normal, but an auxiliary bishop of Cologne himself, Rolf Steinhäuser. “Not much will happen there,” said Schüller. “Woelki will return in March, make a sad face and continue. Cologne will then have to face a delay of 10, 15 years under a cardinal who has no more answers. A king without a people.”

With Friday’s decision, Pope Francis has now left five German bishops who had either offered him his resignation or – in Woelki’s case – under observation. The other four are Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Heße and the two auxiliary bishops of Cologne Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. You can all continue. “For me, this is a moral declaration of bankruptcy by the Pope, especially when he writes that Woelki was not responsible for anything by accepting the abuse,” Schüller said.

The fact that the leaders of the Catholic Church who would long ago have resigned from politics has a lot to do with the structure of the 2000-year-old institution: it is an absolutist monarchy. One determined, and that’s the Pope. “The very problematic aspects of an institution based on the monarchy have so far mainly manifested themselves in the relations between the clergy and the laity, now they are also manifested within the clergy”, comments the theologian Daniel Bogner.

The professor of moral theology and ethics at the Swiss University of Friborg reminds us that the leading clergy of the Archdiocese of Cologne have signaled in recent months that they no longer trust Woelki for meaningful leadership. It’s something like an SOS signal from the nave engine room. “But there are probably no branches in Rome for such radio messages.”

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