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Archbishop Hesse in the abuse process: "I no longer understood the world that day"


In Cologne, a priest is on trial who is said to have abused his nieces, among other things. Today's Archbishop of Hamburg testified as a witness - and admitted mistakes in handling the case.

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Hamburg Archbishop Hesse in the district court of Cologne: "I no longer understood the world that day"

Photo: Oliver Berg / dpa

It is rare for a man of the clergy to stand trial in a secular court for alleged sex crimes.

And even more seldom are high clergymen invited as witnesses.

Archbishop Stefan Hesse, Archbishop of Hamburg, testified before the Cologne district court on Tuesday.

From 2006 to 2012 he was Head of Human Resources in the Archdiocese of Cologne and dealt with the allegations of abuse against the now 70-year-old Hans U.

The priest is accused of regularly sexually abusing three nieces, who were underage at the time, in the 1990s.

Archbishop Hesse was invited as a witness because the U. case appeared in the abuse report by the Archdiocese of Cologne in March 2020 - and got Hesse into trouble.

The experts showed him eleven breaches of duty in connection with abuse.

It was said that he had violated his duty to provide information in his office as head of human resources.

Hesse then offered the Pope his resignation as Archbishop of Hamburg.

Francis rejected this.

Hesse now described to the Cologne Regional Court how he immediately suspended the allegedly abusive priest in 2010 after learning that the public prosecutor's office was investigating against Hans U.

"That's why we acted quickly and decisively," said Hess.

When the public prosecutor's office stopped their investigation because the alleged victims had withdrawn their statement, he was perplexed.

"I no longer understood the world that day," said the archbishop.

One of the nieces filed a complaint in 2010, but withdrew it – presumably under pressure from the family and in exchange for hush money.

The public prosecutor's office dropped the case in March 2011.

»And then we were faced with nothing«

According to the Archdiocese's legal experts, there was no longer any basis for church proceedings.

"With that, this house of cards collapsed," said Hesse.

"And then we were left with nothing." On the instructions of Archbishop Joachim Meisner at the time, the priest was reinstated.

He was involved with children again and is said to have committed abuse again.

The former official of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Prelate Günter Assenmacher, who was also called as a witness, had argued in a similar way.

Without the statements of those affected, we had nothing in our hands.

In general, he - the head of the church court - only had an advisory function in the Causa U., said the 69-year-old before the Cologne district court.

Archbishop Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki suspended Assenmacher last year after the publication of the report on abuse by the law firm Gercke Wollschläger.

Hesse had taken a break, which he describes in his New Year's sermon not as a time of penance, but as a spiritual sabbatical.

At the end of his three-hour statement, the Archbishop of Hamburg admitted that he had made a mistake.

With today's knowledge, he sees things differently.

He expressed his personal responsibility when he asked for his resignation.

The Pope's decision to keep him in office does not make it any easier for him.

Explosive memorandum

In 2020 it became known that there was an explosive memorandum from the archdiocese from the time the allegations against the priest were being examined.

It said that the priest had "told everything" in a conversation in the general vicariate.

It goes on to say: "However, no minutes were deliberately to be made of this conversation." Hesse had given his consent to this procedure.

Hesse said in court that he "couldn't make any sense" of this memorandum.

The priest had always denied all allegations against him and called them nonsense.

'He dismissed it all.

(...) I'm 100% sure of that.« In addition, the files are all still there.

According to the indictment, the accused Hans U. behaved particularly nefariously during the alleged assaults. He is said to have sexually assaulted and raped the girls for many years when they were at his mercy on weekend visits. He is said to have abused the girls 31 times. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of between two and 15 years.

Since the trial began in November 2021, other alleged victims have come forward.

The indictment was supplemented by two allegations of abuse of minors from 2011.

Everyone was aware that in the 1990s U. let "rows" of young girls stay overnight in a parsonage near Gummersbach, judge Christoph Kaufmann said in the process: "With very little commitment, you could have found out a lot about what would have shown evidence of a considerable danger,« the »Kölner Stadtanzeiger« quotes him as saying.

The two foster children of the accused also weighed heavily on the 70-year-old in the process.


The now 55-year-old foster daughter reported that she and a boy two years older than her were taken from a children's home in Bonn at the end of the 1970s and placed in the priest's chaplain's apartment.

indifference and ignorance

Apparently, Cardinal Joseph Höffner had given the priest an exceptional permit for foster care.

With dramatic consequences for the children: According to the foster daughter, the priest abused her from the age of twelve.

She was pregnant twice and had an abortion both times.

The alleged perpetrator found it "sad" but did not question it.

During the proceedings, victims, relatives and people close to the priest painted a shocking picture of the indifference and ignorance of those involved.

According to the statements, nobody put an end to the activities of the accused - neither bishops, nor parishioners, nor the judiciary.

When the proceedings were discontinued in 2011, the suspect seemed to interpret this as carte blanche.

At the same time, he is said to have severely abused an 11-year-old girl, whose case is now also being tried.

He urged the Archdiocese to pay half of his legal fees.

With material from the dpa

Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2022-01-18

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