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German cardinal sees own mistakes over past abuse cases

March 23, 2021 GMT
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, attends a press conference of the Archdiocese of Cologne to present the consequences of last week published abuse report in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
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Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, attends a press conference of the Archdiocese of Cologne to present the consequences of last week published abuse report in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
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Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, attends a press conference of the Archdiocese of Cologne to present the consequences of last week published abuse report in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — The Roman Catholic archbishop of the German city of Cologne said Tuesday that he made mistakes in past cases involving sexual abuse allegations against priests, although a report has cleared him of wrongdoing, but made clear he has no intention of resigning.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki was speaking after the release last week of a report he commissioned on church officials’ response to past abuse allegations. The findings have prompted the current archbishop of Hamburg to offer his resignation to Pope Francis, while three Cologne church officials, including two auxiliary bishops, were suspended.

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The report found 75 cases in which eight high-ranking officials — including Woelki’s predecessor — neglected their duties to either follow up on, report or sanction cases of alleged abuse by clergy and lay church employees, and failed to take care of the victims.

It absolved Woelki himself of any neglect of his legal duty with respect to abuse victims. But the cardinal said Tuesday that, in the case of one now-deceased priest accused of abusing a young boy in the late 1970s, he didn’t do “everything humanly possible.”

“I didn’t have to report (him) to Rome, but I could have done it and I should have done it, even if it seemed pointless and the result was expectable,” he said at a news conference.

In another case involving a priest who abused children in the 1990s, Woelki said that he should “perhaps” have suspended the man earlier, even if that defied the Vatican.

However, Woelki said the priority is to learn lessons for the future. The cardinal, who has faced strong criticism over recent months for keeping a first report he commissioned on Cologne church officials’ response to abuse allegations under wraps, citing legal concerns, defended that approach and made clear he won’t resign.

“The problems would remain after my departure,” he said. “Such a resignation would only be a symbol that lasted at most for a short time.”

“My perception of responsibility means that ... I will do everything so that no mistakes can happen here in the future,” Woelki added.