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German Catholic archbishop asks Vatican to review his handling of abuse allegations

Screenshot 2020 11 23 at 084109 Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg. / Raimond Spekking (CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

A German Catholic archbishop asked the Vatican Friday to review his handling of abuse allegations. 

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg wrote to the Congregation for Bishops Nov. 20 in connection with abuse cases that he reviewed while serving in the Archdiocese of Cologne. 

Heße was vicar general of Cologne archdiocese from 2012 until his appointment as archbishop of Hamburg in 2015.

In his letter to the Congregation, Heße highlighted the current controversy over the handling of abuse complaints in Cologne archdiocese, where he served following his ordination in 1993.

Heße said that he would send the Vatican the results of an investigation presently underway in Cologne, which are expected to be published in March 2021.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, said it was unclear whether the Vatican would respond to this step by authorizing one or more proceedings under Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio seeking to hold bishops accountable for mishandling abuse cases.

Heße said in his Nov. 20 statement: “Today I wrote to the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and described the situation to him. I explained to him that I had always participated to the best of my knowledge and conscience in the processing of cases of sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Cologne and never in the cover-up of such cases.”

He continued: “The public debate about my time in Cologne, which has been going on for months, is not only a burden on me personally, but also on the Catholics in the archdiocese.”

“Out of concern for the Archdiocese of Hamburg, I therefore consider it my duty to inform the Roman authorities both of the current situation and of the investigation results from Cologne, which will be available in March.”

“To me, it is self-evident that I cannot be a judge in my own case, but that I ask the authority that appointed me to my office as archbishop for a review.”

The day before his statement, Heße announced that he would be stepping aside temporarily as a spiritual adviser to the Central Committee of German Catholics, the influential lay body known by its German initials, ZdK.

The provisions of Vos estis came into force on June 1, 2019, for a three-year experimental period. Several bishops in the United States and Poland have been subject to investigation under the terms of the motu proprio.

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