BERLIN: The Archbishop of Hamburg offered to step down on Thursday (Mar 18) after a report named him among several senior officials in Germany's Catholic Church to have breached their duty in handling sexual abuse cases over decades.
In an 800-page report into the handling of abuse cases in the archdiocese of Cologne between 1975 and 2018, criminal lawyer Bjoern Gercke said he had found more than 200 abusers and more than 300 victims, mostly under the age of 14.
The team of lawyers who carried out the report said there were 75 cases in which church officials had failed to carry out their duty although it cleared the Archbishop of Cologne who had commissioned the investigation.
Among those named in the report was the Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Hesse, who responded by saying he had never taken part in a cover-up but acknowledged he had made mistakes.
"To avert damage to the office of Archbishop and to the Archdiocese of Hamburg, I offer Pope Francis my resignation and ask him to relieve me of my duties immediately," he said.
The report found that Hesse, who had held a senior role in the Cologne diocese, had breached his duty in 11 cases.
Other high-profile officials named included Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017 and was Rainer Maria Woelki's predecessor as archbishop of Cologne.
Woelki commissioned the report after refusing to allow the publication of the findings of a first investigation which he said was flawed and not legally sound - a decision that drew much criticism from victims.
After the report was published, Woelki suspended two church officials, named by the archdiocese as Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp and church official Guenter Assenmacher.
Neither commented immediately on the decision.
Abuse victims said the report was too narrow in scope and came too late as many of those responsible were already dead.
"The Church's filibustering tactics over 10-11 years have worked," said Matthias Katsch of the Eckiger Tisch victim group. "It is important that we finally move away from expert opinions, from lawyers' views, to a real coming to terms with the situation."
Woelki, who will next week decide on further personnel consequences, said he would examine the report, which he described as a "first step".
Bishops had warned that the row in Cologne was damaging the Catholic Church across Germany. In 2018, the Church apologised to victims after a report found that clerics had abused around 3,700 victims in the seven decades up to 2014.
Cologne, with its landmark Gothic cathedral, has the largest membership of any diocese in the German-speaking world.