Testimony in the Springer trial: Woelki in court
What is the procedure about?
Dhe process is one of several press law procedures that Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki against the publishing house Axel Springer. The Archbishop of Cologne sees his personal rights violated by the reporting in the newspaper “Bild”. These proceedings are about an article from April 2021 about one of the most prominent cases in which Woelki is confronted with serious allegations: the promotion of Pastor D. to deputy Düsseldorf city dean in September 2017. The priest had been put on record by the police, after he masturbated with a 16-year-old homeless prostitute on the premises of the main train station in 2001 and was then blackmailed by him, after which he went to the police.
Where is the contentious point?
It is disputed to what extent the Cologne cardinal was aware of this incident at the time of the promotion and of other allegations against the priest in the following years. Among other things, it is about visits to the sauna with altar boys. According to “Bild”, Woelki knew the pastor’s personal file. Among other things, it contained a letter from the police warning against using the clergyman to work with children and young people.
Cardinal Woelki denies that he knew the personnel file and wants the “image” forbidden to claim the opposite. In an affidavit he affirmed that at the time of the promotion he had only “heard” that Pastor D. 2001 “is said to have had contact with a prostitute”. Officials who had campaigned for the priest’s promotion had assured him that there were “other rumors surrounding the pastor” that none of them were true.
Why does Woelki have to testify in court?
Cardinal Woelki appeared as a witness in the trial at the request of Springer-Verlag. The 28th Civil Chamber of the Cologne Regional Court, which is responsible for press matters, has determined this in a so-called evidentiary order. It is not often that the plaintiff appears as a witness at the same time. The judges said that this procedure was only permissible to a limited extent and presupposed that all other evidence presented had been exhausted and that no complete proof had been provided.
The burden of proof lies with Springer-Verlag. He must prove that the representation of the “image” corresponds to the facts. As a rule, the defendant only requests that the plaintiff be heard as a witness if he hopes that the plaintiff will make statements that incriminate him.
What did the other witnesses say?
The Cologne judges have heard two witnesses so far: the former secretary of the Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisnr and the former intervention commissioner of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Oliver Vogt, who was responsible for cases of abuse. With their statements, both have raised considerable doubts about Woelki’s portrayal. According to them, the Archbishop of Cologne received comprehensive information about D. from both of them. However, neither of them was able to say whether the cardinal knew his personal file.
The longtime secretary of Woelki’s predecessor reported that Woelki wanted to speak to her about priest D. during his time as auxiliary bishop responsible for the Düsseldorf district. In a conversation lasting around twenty minutes, which the witness dated between 2009 and 2011, she reported to Woelki that priest D. had been blackmailed by an underage sexual partner in 2002. She also stated that she had accompanied D. on several occasions in order to be able to prevent him from visiting a sauna with altar boys or buying underwear.