The Vatican has said that an external review of contracts in Germany’s Cologne archdiocese must wait until Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki returns from a sabbatical.

The archdiocese disclosed Rome’s decision on Jan. 4, less than a month after it announced the review of contracts surrounding a landmark study of clerical abuse, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The archdiocese said on Dec. 7 that Bishop Rolf Steinhäuser, who was named administrator of the archdiocese in October 2020, had “immediately” commissioned two independent canon lawyers to study the contracts awarded by Woelki and vicar general Msgr. Markus Hofmann.

The contracts related to the 800-page Gercke Report, released in March. The study, known as the “Independent Investigation into the Handling of Sexualized Violence in the Archdiocese of Cologne,” covered the period from 1975 to 2018.

The archdiocese said last month that Steinhäuser, a Cologne auxiliary bishop, had called a meeting of the assets council and cathedral chapter at which he “provided information that when contracts were awarded in the context of the independent investigation into sexualized violence, both committees were not involved as required by Church law.”

But on Jan. 4, the archdiocese said: “The external examination of the question of whether there have been omissions under canon law in the awarding of contracts in the Archdiocese of Cologne in the past 10 years is to be taken up only after the return of Cardinal Woelki.”

“The Holy See has informed the apostolic administrator, Auxiliary Bishop Rolf Steinhäuser, of this in a letter. The message states that the Congregation for Bishops agrees to the undertaking of such an investigation, but that it should only be carried out when the archbishop has resumed his official duties from March 2, 2022.”

It added that the assets council and cathedral chapter had agreed with Steinhäuser shortly before Christmas on the need for an investigation of the contracts.

“In this investigation, older contracts are also to be reviewed, after initial indications of possible omissions had emerged,” the archdiocese said.

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Woelki is taking “a period of spiritual leave” after Pope Francis decided in September that he should continue leading the archdiocese in western Germany after a Vatican investigation into his handling of abuse cases.

CNA Deutsch reported last month that the independent abuse investigation cost Germany’s largest and reportedly also its richest diocese around 2.8 million euros ($3.2 million) between 2019 and 2021.

The archdiocese paid 757,500 euros ($857,000) for an initial report by the Munich law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl, which Woelki controversially declined to publish.

After lawyers advising the archdiocese raised concerns about “methodological deficiencies” in the study, Woelki commissioned Cologne-based criminal law expert Professor Björn Gercke to write a new report, costing 516,200 euros ($584,000).

In addition to the 1.3 million euros ($1.4 million), the archdiocese spent on the reports, it paid an estimated 588,000 euros ($665,000) for “further legal advice,” as well as just under 820,000 euros ($928,000) on ”crisis consultations.”

Pope Francis ordered an apostolic visitation of the archdiocese in May 2020 to examine possible errors in the handling of abuse cases by Woelki, as well as the Cologne auxiliaries Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Bishop Ansgar Puff.

The Vatican said in September last year that its investigation of Woelki had found no evidence that the 65-year-old cardinal acted unlawfully in relation to sexual abuse cases.

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“Nevertheless, Cardinal Woelki has also made major mistakes in his approach to the issue of coming to terms with abuse overall, especially at the level of communication,” it said.

“This has contributed significantly to a crisis of confidence in the archdiocese that has disturbed many of the faithful.”

In its Jan. 4 announcement, the Cologne archdiocese said: “The responsible bodies want to prepare the decision-making process for the external audit.”

“The external audit is also to clarify what consequences are to be drawn and how administrative processes are to be improved.”