Vatican to investigate Cologne finances after cardinal returns from sabbatical
ROME – Earlier this week, the struggling German Archdiocese of Cologne announced that the Vatican has agreed to conduct an external audit of its contracts once the archbishop of the diocese returns from a papal-mandated sabbatical.
The audit will investigate canonical legality in the awarding of contracts over the past ten years, according to a diocesan statement.
In December, the Archdiocese of Cologne announced its intention to conduct an external audit to clarify “if there have been any recent omissions in canon law when awarding contracts,” saying the decision to pursue the survey had been accepted by the Archdiocesan Real Estate Council. and cathedral chapter, and the current administrator of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Auxiliary Bishop Rolf Steinhäuser.
Steinhäuser informed the Vatican of its request for an audit in Cologne, and earlier this week the Vatican Congregation for Bishops sent a letter to the Archdiocese saying that it had accepted the audit, but that it did not ‘would take place once the current Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Ranier Woekli, returns from his sabbatical in March.
For over a year, Woelki has been a hugely controversial figure in Cologne due to widespread criticism of his handling of the clerical sexual abuse crisis.
Much of this criticism was linked to Woelki’s decision not to publish the results of a January 2019 in-depth review of the Archdiocese of Cologne’s personnel files from the 1970s with the aim of identifying shortcomings. systemic in the treatment of cases of office abuse.
After initially pledging to release the results of this investigation, Woelki later reneged on that promise when legal experts raised concerns about the methodology of the investigation. Woelki then hired a Cologne-based legal expert to conduct a second review and publish a new report, but did not release the results of the first query.
This second report, carried out by legal expert Björn Gercke and which was published in March 2021, found 75 cases in which eight senior officials – including Woelki’s late predecessor – neglected their duties to monitor, report or sanction cases. of alleged abuse by clergy and lay church workers and failed to care for the victims.
While the report absolved Woelki of any allegations of neglect in his duties to victims of abuse, the public backlash against him continued and he submitted his resignation letter to Pope Francis.
In September, Pope Francis admitted that Woelki had made “major errors” in communication throughout the process, but decided to leave Woelki in power despite the criticism he faced, requiring him to take a “long time.” spiritual death of his supervisory functions of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
This sabbatical started in October 2021 and is expected to end in March.
Around the same time, Pope Francis rejected the offer to resign from another German prelate, Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, who was previously a senior church official in Cologne and who has been accused 11 cases of breach of duty.
The calls for an external audit of Cologne’s finances were first triggered by the cost of the two legal reports commissioned by the Archdiocese and payments to communications consultants which totaled some 2.8 million euros (3.1 millions of dollars).
According to the Archdiocese’s press release, “In the Archdiocese, in relation to the high costs of the independent investigation into sexual violence, the first indications had emerged that the contracts might not have been awarded in accordance with canon law.”
As part of the audit, older contracts over 10 years old will also be reviewed with the overall aim of identifying “what conclusions need to be drawn and how administrative processes can be improved,” the statement said.
The initial review of the archdiocesan old contracts includes the acquisition of furniture for the conference rooms and various technology purchases.
“The budgets for this have been correctly recorded, and according to current knowledge, no financial damage has taken place,” the Archdiocese said.
This audit is the latest in a saga of abuse scandals that have marked the Catholic Church in Germany for years. The scandals became more acute after the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 released a nationwide study on child sexual abuse by Church leaders and staff.
This study found that some 1,670 Church officials, most of whom were priests, were accused of committing sexual abuse between 1946 and 2014, with around 3,670 victims, although the actual number is believed to be much higher given that not all victims report abuse and the study did not have access to documents from other Catholic institutions, such as schools.
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