Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne. Credit: / null

CNA Newsroom, Aug 21, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki expressed profound disappointment over an internal IT report finding that employees in his Archdiocese of Cologne had attempted to access pornographic websites.

“To some, the consumption of pornography may seem harmless. But I stand firmly with Pope Francis, who unequivocally condemns it and warns of its insidious dangers, particularly the egregious violation of human dignity,” Woelki said, according to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

“Upon learning of this unsettling news, I immediately called for a thorough examination of the incidents and insisted they be addressed in strict accordance with legal regulations,” the German prelate said in a public statement.

German media outlets reported that the archdiocese’s internal investigation exonerated the cardinal, confirming he was not among the “users of the incriminated sites.”

Cologne’s public prosecutor’s office, which is in possession of the archdiocese’s list of implicated users, stated that there was “currently no suspicion” of criminal activity warranting an investigation, CNA Deutsch reported.

Woelki took the opportunity to defend the reputation of the Church’s workforce. “We have a large number of committed and reliable employees in the Church sector. It is crucial to me that we do not cast a shadow of general suspicion over everyone at this time,” he emphasized.

The archdiocese revealed that the discovery was made during a routine IT security check undertaken a while ago. “There had been no indications of criminally relevant behavior,” the archdiocese stated. “Our firewalls had effectively blocked access to these problematic sites. The checks were explicitly not aimed at scrutinizing the usage behavior of individual persons.”

Pope Francis has been vocal about the perils of pornography, warning that it “weakens the soul.” 

The pontiff cautioned seminarians in October 2022: “The devil comes from there: It weakens the priestly heart.” He urged everyone to “reflect on whether they have ever fallen into the temptation of digital pornography,” adding: “Dear brothers, be careful of this. The pure heart, the heart that receives Jesus every day, cannot receive this pornographic information.”

However, a few weeks later, one German priest advocated for pornography as a form of “sexual relief” for celibate people. Criticizing Pope Francis, Father Hermann Backhaus in November 2022 argued that pornography could serve as a “pressure relief valve” for priests and religious individuals committed to celibacy.

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