The Archdiocese of Cologne knew of an allegation of abuse against a priest. When he died in 2019, there was still an exuberant obituary from the HR manager. Now the accusation is in the room: did the clergyman enjoy celebrity protection?

Church conferences or youth meetings without the song “Laudato si”? Unthinkable – whole generations of Catholics have grown up with the song. A priest with a celebrity factor wrote the German text.

As President of the Sternsinger, Winfried Pilz was in the Federal Chancellery and with the Federal President, standing side by side with Chancellor Angela Merkel. But on Wednesday the Archdiocese of Cologne published a press release that puts the work of the man who died in 2019 in a different light.

The priest is said to have sexually abused a vulnerable adult in the 1970s. The victim contacted the Archdiocese in 2012. This initiated a procedure and sent the result to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. It was no longer possible to clarify whether the victim was younger or older than 18 at the time of the crime.

Archdiocese of Cologne asks for support in clarification

Since there have recently been further reports about the accused priest, the Archdiocese’s intervention department is now looking for other possible victims. In addition, the Archdiocese listed the stages of his work over the decades in a statement. Including the ten years in which Pilz was president of the children’s missionary group “Die Sternsinger” in Aachen (2000 to 2010).

It is true that a final clarification of the accused who has already died is only possible in rare cases, according to Cologne. However, the Archdiocese sees its duty towards those affected by sexualized violence to follow up all indications.

Because the investigation partially confirmed the allegations, Cardinal Joachim Meisner reprimanded the retired pastor in February 2014, imposed a fine and prohibited Pilz from approaching minors without the presence of adults. Meisner’s successor, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, was still in office in Berlin at the time.

Exuberant obituary

The prior knowledge of the priest did not prevent the Archdiocese from an exuberant obituary in 2019. Personnel manager and pastor Mike Kolb described the deceased as a deeply believing charismatic and gifted preacher who inspired and accompanied many people in their faith after the Second Vatican Council.

The Cologne-born Münster canon lawyer Thomas Schüller describes the behavior of the archdiocese as “shameful”. “Knowing about the deeds, the diocese leadership published an obituary in 2019, while the victims received no response,” said the professor from the University of Münster to the German Press Agency.

Schüller’s interpretation is that due to the suspect’s celebrity factor, the matter should be kept under wraps for as long as possible. “Now, however, so many victims have apparently reported that this wave could no longer be stopped. That’s why this press release is apparently now.”

The call from Cologne came with a delay of months

Shortly after the Archdiocese’s announcement on Wednesday evening, the children’s missionary work “Die Sternsinger” in Aachen was shocked to speak – apparently at the same time as Cologne. Criticism of the archdiocese could be read between the lines. Although the work was informed about the pastor’s case in September 2021, the archdiocese only responded to the request for a timely call for further victims and the greatest possible transparency in the summer of 2022 – nine months after the contact.

Nevertheless, the Kindermissionswerk called on its own employees to actively participate in the clarification and processing.