Pope Francis rejected the resignation of Hamburg’s archbishop Stefan Hesse on Wednesday. Hesse had offered to step down in March after he was accused of mishandling sexual abuse allegations at the diocese of Cologne in an independent report.
Following the report’s findings Francis granted Hesse a “time out” of unspecified length. But on Wednesday, the papal nuncio’s office in Berlin said in a statement that the pope had asked Hesse to continue his work “in a spirit of reconciliation and service to God.”
The Vatican said that although there had been “deficiencies” in the way that Hesse’s office was run and that there had been “personal procedural errors,” it found no intention to cover up any crimes.
Hesse accepted the pope’s refusal saying that “the time away granted to me has come to an end and, in accordance with the pope’s will, I now expressly resume responsibility as archbishop of Hamburg.”
“In doing so, I am fully aware that it will not necessarily be easy to resume my ministry,” he added.
Pope Francis asked Hesse to stay on in view of “the fact that the archbishop recognizes with humility the mistakes he made in the past” and had offered to quit, the Vatican statement said.
The move to reject Hesse’s resignation follows Francis’ decision in June to reject an offer from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most prominent clerics and a close adviser, to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising over the church’s mishandling of abuse cases.
The independent report released in March showed 314 people — mainly boys under the age of 14 — were abused by clergy in the Cologne diocese between 1975 and 2018.
High ranking members of the organization were accused of failing to follow up on or report cases of abuse, not sanctioning perpetrators or not caring for victims.
Hesse in particular was faulted for 11 cases of neglecting his duty. He conceded that he had made “mistakes” in the past and said he very much regretted if he caused new suffering to victims or their relatives “through my action or omission.”
But he denied actively aiding efforts to shield abusers. “I never participated in cover-ups,” Hesse said.
Revelations about past sexual abuse have dogged the Catholic Church in Germany for years. Cologne’s current archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, was cleared of wrongdoing by the report. Although he has faced pressure to step down, Woelki has refused to do so.
jcg/wmr (dpa, AP)