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German archdiocese raided in perjury probe against cardinal

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki has faced fierce criticism for his handling of widespread child molestation by clergy

AFP, Berlin

Updated: June 28, 2023 06:42 AM GMT

This file photo taken on April 2, 2021, shows German Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki during a mass on Good Friday at the Cathedral in Cologne, western Germany. (Photo: AFP)

German investigators staged raids Tuesday in the archdiocese of Cologne in a perjury probe against Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki linked to media coverage of Catholic Church sex abuse scandals.

Cologne prosecutors said in a statement that six sites including Woelki's residence and an IT center dealing with Church emails had been searched by around 30 police officers.

The measures proceeded without incident and were largely met with cooperation at the respective sites that were searched in the archdiocese, Germany's largest, the prosecutors said.

They added that to avoid misinterpretation they wished to explicitly note that the accused is in no way suspected of actively or even passively covering up or taking part in acts of abuse .

Woelki, 66, has faced fierce criticism for his handling of widespread child molestation by clergy, including allegations he helped hide abuse by two priests in Duesseldorf, one of whom has since died.

The Cologne prosecutor's office had announced last month it was investigating Woelki on suspicion of perjury based on a criminal complaint by a layman.

Woelki had testified in late March in a media rights hearing against the top-selling Bild newspaper that he had never read two documents relating to a priest accused of abuse or been made aware of their content.

However, he allegedly referred to the information contained in the documents, including details of sexual misconduct against youths by the priest, in a letter to the Vatican in 2018.

Under German law, perjury can carry a prison sentence of 15 years, with a minimum penalty of one year in jail.

The German criminal justice system is taking an increasingly active role in prosecuting offenses related to sexual abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades.

A German court this month ordered the Cologne archdiocese to pay 300,000 euros ($328,000) in damages to a victim of repeated sexual abuse by a priest in what was called a potentially landmark case.

Until now the Church in Germany has made voluntary payments to victims totaling some 40 million euros.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

The real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

In 2021, Pope Francis ordered an apostolic visitation of the Cologne archdiocese following a separate damning report on child sex abuse, including an examination of possible mistakes made by Woelki.

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