Pope rejects German archbishop's resignation over abuse

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a Mass in the esplanade of the National Shrine in Sastin, Slovakia, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Pope Francis celebrates an open air Mass in Sastin, the site of an annual pilgrimage each September 15 to venerate Slovakia's patron, Our Lady of Sorrows. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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BERLIN (AP) — Pope Francis has rejected the resignation of the archbishop of Hamburg, who offered to step down in March after he was faulted for his handling of sexual abuse in his previous diocese.

The papal nuncio's office in Berlin said in a statement posted on the Hamburg archdiocese's website Wednesday that the pontiff made his decision after two envoys traveled to Cologne in June to look into possible mistakes by senior church officials there in handling past sexual abuse cases.

Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse's resignation offer followed the release of a report commissioned by his counterpart in Cologne which found 75 cases in which high-ranking officials neglected their duties in such cases. They were criticized, for example, for failing to follow up on or report cases of abuse, not sanctioning perpetrators or not caring for victims.

Hesse, previously a senior official in the Cologne archdiocese, was faulted for 11 cases of neglecting his duty. At the end of March, Francis granted him a “time out” of unspecified length.

The nuncio's office said that the Vatican found “personal procedural errors” on Hesse's part but an investigation didn't show that they were committed with the intention of covering up cases of sexual abuse.

“The fundamental problem consisted, in the wider context of the administration of the archdiocese, in the lack of attentiveness and sensitivity toward those affected by abuse,” it added.

The statement said Francis rejected Hesse's resignation and asked him 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.

Hesse conceded in March 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.”

“I never participated in cover-ups,” he said. “I am nevertheless prepared to carry my part of the responsibility for the failure of the system.”

Revelations about past sexual abuse have dogged the church in Germany and elsewhere for years.

The archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, was cleared of wrongdoing by the report that faulted Hesse, but remains under pressure for his handling of the issue. He has refused to step aside.

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