Pope Francis has refused to accept the Archbishop of Hamburg’s resignation after a report accused him of mishandling allegations of sexual abuse in his previous diocese earlier this year.
Stefan Hesse has served as Archbishop of Hamburg since 2015, but the report refers to one of his previous senior roles in the Archdiocese of Cologne.
Hesse offered to step down in March, saying he had made “mistakes” in the past. He said he very much regrets causing further suffering to the victims or their relatives “by my action or my omission”.
The report found 75 cases in which high-ranking officials neglected their duties in the Catholic Diocese of Cologne. These negligence included failure to monitor or report cases of abuse, fail to sanction perpetrators or fail to care for victims.
The Archbishop of Hamburg was charged with 11 of these cases and was therefore granted an indefinite “time out” by Pope Francis.
However, a statement from the papal nuncio’s office in Berlin asked Hesse to stay after an investigation into his case found “personal procedural errors” but added that they had not been made in the intention to cover up cases of sexual abuse.
“The fundamental problem was, in the larger context of the administration of the archdiocese, the lack of attention and sensitivity towards those affected by the abuse,” he added.
In a statement addressed to Catholics in his archdiocese, Hesse acknowledged that “it will not necessarily be easy to resume my service.”
“I will do everything in my power to do justice to this challenge,” he wrote. “It’s going to take a fresh start. “
The report questioned other high-ranking Catholic figures, including the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. He was cleared of wrongdoing by the same report in June, but remains under pressure for his handling of the matter.
In June, Francis also rejected an offer to resign from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, one of Germany’s most prominent clergymen and a close advisor to the Pope.
Despite the rejection of several offers to resign, Pope Francis recognized that a reform process was necessary and that every bishop had to take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis.