The public prosecutor’s office in Cologne launched preliminary proceedings against Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki on Wednesday. The accusation of false affidavit is being investigated, said senior public prosecutor Ulf Willuhn.

For the first time in Germany, a public prosecutor’s office is investigating the leading bishop of a Catholic diocese. The Cologne public prosecutor’s office has started investigations against Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, as chief public prosecutor Ulrich Bremer told the Catholic News Agency (KNA) on Wednesday. The archbishop is accused of having made a false affidavit in a press law procedure against the “Bild” newspaper.

So far, the public prosecutor’s office had rejected investigations into the matter because the initial suspicion was too low. Now a former high-ranking employee of the Archdiocese of Cologne revealed new details in the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger”. According to Bremer, the reporting gave reason to start the investigation after all.

Specifically, it is about the question of when exactly Woelki was dealt with by the Archdiocese of Cologne with the case of the former “Sternsinger” boss Winfried Pilz. He himself declared in lieu of an oath that this had only happened in the fourth week of June 2022.

The assistant to the former head of personnel in the archdiocese contradicted this. As early as 2015, she had compiled a list with the names of 14 priests accused of abuse, she told the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger”. Among them was the name Pilz. Her supervisor took the list to an appointment with Woelki.

“Maybe he didn’t look at the sheet with the mushroom and the other 13 names. But I dealt with it. Definitely,” said the woman. After the meeting with Woelki, she asked her boss how he reacted to the list. “That didn’t interest the cardinal at all,” he replied.

The ex-assistant was “horrified” by the archbishop’s public presentation of himself today and complained about Woelki’s disloyalty towards his employees. She is still active in the Archdiocese.

The chairman of the independent investigation commission for sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Cologne, Stephan Rixen, demanded clarification. The woman’s statements suggest “that there were at least blatant omissions in the top management of the archdiocese, if not a conscious look away and cover-up,” said the constitutional lawyer.

The Maria 2.0 initiative called on communities to cancel confirmation appointments with Woelki and his auxiliary bishops until the allegations have been clarified. The group announced a rally next Wednesday. On this day, the district court of Cologne is negotiating another affidavit by Woelkis, which critics also doubt.

The Archdiocese of Cologne has not yet commented on the allegations.

So far, there have been no public prosecutor’s investigations against a diocesan bishop in Germany. Because the initial suspicion was too low, the authorities rejected investigations into the former Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, and the current Bishop of Eichstätt, Gregor Maria Hanke, who had come under pressure because of financial scandals. There were only preliminary investigations against the former Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, which were dropped after the end of his term in office.