Hamburg / Rome. The Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Heße, appeared in front of the cameras on March 18 with a serious expression and offered to resign. A few hours earlier he had been incriminated by the expert Björn Gercke. On behalf of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Gercke had investigated whether those responsible for the Archdiocese of Cologne had covered up the sexual abuse of children by priests in the past.
One of the people in charge who had been checked by Gercke was Heße, formerly head of personnel and then vicar general (head of administration) in Cologne. The result: Gercke accused Heße of breaching duty eleven times.
Heße then declared: “I have to and want to accept the consequences from my actions at that time and ultimately also from the breaches of duty I am accused of.” But that will not happen now: Because Pope Francis does not accept the resignation. Hesse remains in office.
Pope: Mistakes are not intentional
It is not as if the Pope doubts Gercke's research results. No, he too sees “deficiencies in the organization and functioning of the Archbishop's General Vicariate as well as personal procedural errors from Hesse”. However, the investigation did not show that these errors were "committed with the intention of covering up cases of sexual abuse". So the Pope says: Hesse made mistakes - but it wasn't on purpose.
The effects of this decision on the Catholic Church in Germany are likely to be enormous. Not only the reform movement “We are Church” is now wondering “why people in Church leadership services are then held accountable at all.” The canon lawyer Thomas Schüller criticizes: "This is a slap in the face for the victims of sexual violence, because they have to gain the impression again that no one will be held accountable for their misconduct."
The theologian Daniel Bogner speaks of the “unreasonable”: “The fateful signal is that the reason for the resignation is not regarded as so serious.” This prevents a public official from facing up to his responsibility and this through a publicly visible step such as document a resignation. "This is very bad news for a religious community in whose message the individual person and their conviction of conscience are very important."
The procedure is reminiscent of the decision on Cardinal Marx
The Pope's actions are reminiscent of his decision in June to also refuse the resignation of the Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The two cases are different. In contrast to Heße, Marx was not personally accused, he rather wanted to take on responsibility for the system, as it were. Since Marx is seen by many German Catholics as an enlightener and innovator, the Pope's decision at the time could still be seen as support for a reform course.