Pope Francis has rejected the resignation of the Archbishop of Hamburg, who offered to resign in March after a report accused him of handling allegations of sexual assault in his former diocese
BERLIN – Pope Francis has rejected the resignation of the Archbishop of Hamburg, who offered to resign in March after a report accused him of handling allegations of sexual assault in his former diocese.
The pope’s nuncio’s office in Berlin said in a statement on Wednesday that the pope made his decision after two envoys traveled to Cologne in June to investigate possible mistakes by senior Church officials there in handling previous cases of sexual abuse. Stefan Hesse, Archbishop of Hamburg since 2015, previously served in several senior roles in the Archdiocese of Cologne.
Hesse’s resignation offer followed the publication of a report commissioned by his Cologne counterpart, which found 75 cases in which high-ranking officials neglected their duties in such cases. They were criticized, for example, for not following up or reporting cases of abuse, not sanctioning perpetrators or not caring about victims.
Hesse was blamed for 11 cases of neglect of his duty. At the end of March, Francis granted him a “time out” of unspecified length.
The Nuncio office said the Vatican had found “personal procedural errors” on Hesse’s part, but an investigation did not show that they were committed with intent to cover up cases of sexual abuse.
“The fundamental problem lay in the broader context of the archdiocese’s administration in the lack of attention and sensitivity for victims of abuse,” it added.
The statement said that Francis rejected Hesse’s resignation and asked him to continue, given “the fact that the archbishop humbly acknowledges the mistakes he has made in the past” and had offered to stop.
The influential German playgroup ZdK, or the Central Committee of German Catholics, strongly criticized the Vatican’s reasoning. “It is a slap in the face for people who have been victims of sexual violence when no personal consequences follow from these wrong decisions,” said the group’s vice president, Karin Kortmann.
Hesse admitted in March that he had made “mistakes” in the past and said he regretted much if he caused new suffering to the victims or their relatives “through my action or omission.”
“I never participated in concealment,” he said. “I am still prepared to take my share of responsibility for the system’s failure.”
In a statement on Wednesday addressed to Catholics in his archdiocese, Hesse acknowledged that “it will not necessarily be easy to resume my ministry.”
“I will do everything in my power to do justice to this challenge,” he wrote. “There must be a new beginning.”
Hesse said it was important for him to reach out to “those who are confused about the pope’s decision, question it and / or struggle with it.”
Revelations about previous sexual assaults have disappeared from the church in Germany and elsewhere for several years.
The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, was cleared of inaccuracies in the report that wronged Hesse, but remains under pressure to address the issue. He has refused to step aside.
In June, Francis quickly rejected an offer from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most prominent priests and a close adviser to the pope, to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising over the church’s abuse. But he said a reform process was needed and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “disaster” of the crisis.
Marx himself has not been involved in any reports of abuse so far, but he said all members of the hierarchy shared the blame for the failures.