Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne. Credit: www.ewtn.de. / null
CNA Newsroom, Jun 27, 2023 / 06:42 am (CNA).
German law enforcement officials searched several buildings of the Archdiocese of Cologne on Tuesday as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of perjury made against the archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.
The perjury allegations revolve around the accusation that Woelki may have provided false testimony about his awareness of reports of clergy sexual abuse within the archdiocese, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner news agency.
The investigation is focused on testimony related to the case of abuse committed by a priest who passed away in 2019. Woelki has been accused of having been informed about the case earlier than he had previously stated under oath.
The search of the archdiocese’s business documents and emails is intended to determine whether the accusation of perjury against Woelki can be substantiated or refuted.
Searches were conducted simultaneously at 8 a.m. local time by some 30 police officers and four public prosecutors at a total of six locations, including the premises of the vicariate general and the archbishop’s house, as well as at the business premises of the IT service provider that manages the email traffic of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
According to CNA Deutsch, prosecutors said the operation was “carried out without incident.”
The archdiocese’s press office confirmed the searches, adding: “Experience has shown that it will take some time before the results are available. Until then, we ask the public not to take an open-ended investigation as an opportunity to make preliminary judgments.”
The prosecutor’s office emphasized in a statement on Tuesday that the measures were aimed at clarifying an initial suspicion with a view to establishing both incriminating and exculpatory circumstances. “At this stage of the proceedings, the presumption of innocence, which must be observed in criminal proceedings until a final judgment is rendered, is particularly important.”
“To avoid any misunderstandings, it should be noted that the accused is not being charged with covering up or participating in any acts of abuse,” the prosecutor said.
Woelki has been under intense public pressure to step down as leader of Cologne, which is Germany’s largest and reportedly also its richest diocese.
In September 2021, the pope confirmed Woelki in the post after an apostolic visitation of the archdiocese and permitted him to take a period of leave. When the 65-year-old cardinal returned in March 2022, the archdiocese announced that he had submitted his resignation — which Pope Francis has yet to accept.