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RELIGION

Tensions mount in German Catholic Church over abuse report

Pressure increased on Friday on a powerful German Catholic archbishop who has for months blocked the publication of a report about alleged sexual abuse of minors by members of his diocese.

Tensions mount in German Catholic Church over abuse report
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Koin, at the autumn plenary assembly of the German Bishops' Conference in the City Palace. September 2020: Picture alliance / DPA | Arne Dedert

In a rare public rebuke, the diocese council of the western city of Cologne, which groups clergy and laypeople, sharply criticised Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, saying he had “completely failed as a moral authority”.

“We find ourselves in the biggest crisis that the Church has ever experienced,” Tim Kurzbach, head of the council, said in a statement.

“Those responsible must finally also take responsibility. We need clarity now. Otherwise we have no chance of getting out of this misery.”

Woelki, a conservative who has resisted Church reform efforts, has faced criticism for months for refusing to allow the publication of an independent study on abuse committed by clergy in his diocese, the country's largest, between 1975 and 2018.

Victims have expressed anger and disappointment about his stance.

Woelki has justified his decision by citing a right to privacy of the alleged perpetrators accused in the report, carried out by a Munich law firm, and what he called a lack of independence on the part of some researchers.   

In early November, the diocese of the western city of Aachen published its own study prepared by the same law firm.

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

However its authors said the actual number of victims was almost certainly much higher.

The revelations, which mirror paedophile scandals in Australia, Chile, France, Ireland and the United States, prompted Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a prominent reformer, to apologise on behalf of the German Catholic Church.

The Church currently pays victims an average sum of 5,000 euros ($6,067) “in recognition of their suffering”, as well as covering their therapy fees.

In September 2020, German bishops agreed that victims would be entitled to payouts of up to €50,000 each and an independent committee would be set up to examine complaints and decide on payouts from January 1st, 2021.

READ ALSO: German Catholic Church to pay abuse victims up to €50,000

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ISLAM

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

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