Pope Francis has refused to accept the resignation of the archbishop of Hamburg after a report accused him of mishandling sexual abuse allegations in his previous diocese earlier this year.
Stefan Hesse has held the position of Hamburg’s archbishop since 2015, but the report referred to one of his previous senior roles in the Cologne archdiocese.
Hesse offered to step down in March, stating that he had made “mistakes” in the past. He said he very much regretted if he caused new suffering to victims or their relatives “through my action or omission.”
The report found 75 cases in which high-ranking officials neglected their duties in the Catholic diocese of Cologne. Such neglects included failing to follow up on or report cases of abuse, not sanctioning perpetrators or not caring for victims.
The Hamburg archbishop was accused of 11 such cases and was consequently granted a “time out” by Pope Francis of unspecified length.
However, a statement from the papal nuncio’s office in Berlin asked Hesse to stay on after an investigation into his case noted “personal procedural errors” but added that they were not committed with the intention of covering up cases of sexual abuse.
“The fundamental problem consisted, in the wider context of the administration of the archdiocese, in the lack of attentiveness and sensitivity toward those affected by abuse,” it added.
In a statement addressed to Catholics in his archdiocese, Hesse acknowledged that “it won’t necessarily be easy to resume my service.”
“I will do everything in my power to do justice to this challenge,” he wrote. “There will have to be a new beginning.”
The report has called other high-ranking Catholic figures into question, 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 issue.
In June, Francis also rejected a resignation offer from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, one of Germany’s most prominent clerics and a close adviser of the pope.
Despite rejecting several offers of resignation, Pope Francis he conceded that a process of reform is necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis.