The archbishop of Hamburg offered his resignation to Pope Francis on Thursday after a team of German lawyers released a major 800-page report on sexual abuse cases in the city of Cologne.
“In order to avert damage to the office of archbishop as well as to the archdiocese of Hamburg, I offer Pope Francis my resignation from office and ask him to release me from my duties immediately,” Stefan Hesse said in a personal statement.
Hesse was the head of personnel in the Catholic archdiocese of Cologne during a span of time covered in the investigation led by criminal lawyers Bjoern Gercke and Kerstin Stirner.
Hesse had to deal with allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests in that function and as vicar general in Cologne.
The report accused Hesse of 11 instances of neglecting his duty, including the responsibility to report cases.
Hesse previously denied accusations he had tried to bury sex abuse cases, but that as a senior member of the clergy, he would bear his portion of responsibility for failures of the system.
“I have never participated in any cover-up,” said Hesse, who moved to Hamburg as archbishop in March 2015.
His offer to resign came hours after the release of the report, which found from 1975 to 2018, there were 202 people within the Cologne archdiocese suspected of involvement in abuse, and that 63 per cent of those accused were clerics.
In almost half of cases – 47 per cent – the allegations pertained to sexual abuse or serious sexual abuse. The remainder were classified as boundary violations and other sexual misconduct.
The majority of the victims were boys, said the report.
Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, immediately suspended two church officials in response to the findings.
“Based on what I have just heard, I would like to temporarily release (Dominicus) Schwaderlapp and (Guenter) Assenmacher from their duties with immediate effect,” Woelki said on Thursday.
Schwaderlapp, an auxiliary bishop, later said he had offered his resignation to the pope.
Woelki was not guilty of any breaches of duty, the report found.
But Gercke, the report’s author, criticized the diocese for the documentation it had provided over the course of the probe, saying that there were “significant deficiencies with regard to the organization and management of files in the archdiocese.”
“We got the impression that parts of the files were missing because the way the proceedings were conducted was incomprehensible,” he said. The evaluation of the files showed, among other things, “that for decades no one dared to report such cases,” Gercke said.
A first report by a Munich law firm had been kept under lock and key by Woelki, prompting the commission of an independent report.
Gercke made it clear that the archdiocese of Cologne was likely not an outlier: “I’m not sure you’ll find a diocese in Germany where we wouldn’t have found any breaches of duty.”