German church urges quick decision on divisive archbishop

BERLIN (AP) – The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference on Monday urged Pope Francis to make a quick decision on the future of a prominent archbishop who has been heavily criticized for his handling of the church’s abuse scandal.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, said he had offered the pope his resignation after returning from a months-long “spiritual sabbatical” last week.

The conservative Woelki has become a deeply divisive figure in the German church after sparking public outrage over his handling of reports of how church officials have been handling abuse cases in his archdiocese. In September, the Vatican announced that Francis had decided to grant him the sabbatical after committing “serious errors in communication”.

Last week, Woelki called on the faithful to “give me – no, us – another chance”.

The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Limburg bishop Georg Baetzing, said that Woelki had sent a “strong signal” with his offer of resignation, but that the mood in Cologne was still very tense.

Francis and the Vatican “now bear responsibility for this situation,” Baetzing told journalists at the beginning of a regular meeting of German bishops. “And I don’t think they’ll be able to watch for long.”

Bätzing said he hoped Woelki and the faithful in Cologne could be reconciled, but “otherwise the pope must act”.

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