German Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, is calling for a fresh start in Cologne, Germany’s largest Catholic archdiocese, but raised eyebrows after describing the pope as an “old man.”
The cardinal wants to remain archbishop, but is placing his fate in the hands of the pope, Woelki told a closed diocesan pastoral council meeting in the city of Dusseldorf.
Woelki’s references to the pope, however, caused some consternation among the 60 attendees on Friday and Saturday.
He described Pope Francis as “old” and “out of touch with reality,” several members told dpa.
An archdiocese spokesperson said that while Woelki had used the phrase “old man” to describe the pope, who is 85, this was in no way meant to be disrespectful.
One participant said of Woelki, “We experienced an honest, authentic bishop.”
People’s willingness to give Woelki a second chance was palpable, the dean of the city of Wuppertal, Bruno Kurth, said after the meeting, but there was also scepticism.
Last year, Pope Francis said Woelki had made “major mistakes” and sent him on a sabbatical. Woelki returned to work from his five-month break on March 2.
The archdiocese of Cologne has been in crisis since Woelki decided in 2020, to hold off on publishing an expert report on the handling of child sexual abuse cases by members of the clergy. He cited legal reasons for his decision and commissioned a new report.
Woelki offered his resignation to the pope, but Francis has yet to make a decision on the issue.
At the Dusseldorf meeting, Woelki announced plans to reform the administration of the archdiocese, saying it would no longer be led by a theologian but by an administrative expert.