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KNA International | OSV NewsAugust 21, 2023
People walk outside the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, March 16, 2020. Germany's Catholic church will be forced to give up a third of its properties in the face of dwindling membership and revenue, according to a new report, with many facing demolition unless converted to other uses. (OSV News photo/Theodor Barth, KNA)

COLOGNE, Germany (OSV News) -- Clergy and staff of the Archdiocese of Cologne tried to browse pornography on work computers, its archbishop has confirmed, after media reported a service provider found there were “mass attempts to access porn websites” from archdiocesan computers.

Archdiocesan officials were informed as early as July 2022 about such activities by dozens of employees -- among them were “highest-ranking clerics,” according to a report by a local newspaper, Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger. Accessing pornographic sites, even if it is not punishable under either state or church law, is prohibited in a service agreement with the archdiocese.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that pornography “is a grave offense,” meaning objectively in the area of mortal sin.

In response to an inquiry from KNA, a Catholic news agency in Germany, the Archdiocese of Cologne explained Aug. 17 that, as in many other organizations, a service provider regularly checks the IT security measures: “This includes, among other things, checking whether the firewalls reliably fend off access attempts to sites that pose a risk in terms of IT security (violence, pornography, drugs, etc.).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that pornography “is a grave offense,” meaning objectively in the area of mortal sin.

These checks were carried out in compliance with data protection regulations and were “explicitly not aimed at checking the usage behavior of individual persons.”

“It has disappointed me that employees have tried to access pornographic sites with the help of devices that our archdiocese has made available to them,” Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki said Aug. 18.

At the same time, he warned that “now not everyone is placed under general suspicion. We have a large number of committed and reliable employees in the church sector.”

Cardinal Woelki commented, “To some, the consumption of pornography may seem harmless. But I agree with Pope Francis, who condemns it and warns of its dangers, especially the violation of human dignity.”

When the cardinal learned of the accusations, he said, he asked that they be investigated immediately and that they be dealt with in accordance with legal regulations.

According to Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger, law enforcement officials are “interested in a list from the archdiocese with more than 1,000 access attempts to pages that were blocked by a protective filter because of questionable, undesirable content and potential threats to IT security.”

Among the 15 employees with the most access attempts was a lay employee who has since left the archdiocese and is being investigated separately by the public prosecutor’s office for cybercrime on suspicion of possessing and obtaining criminal content. The archdiocese told KNA that it was cooperating “fully with the state authorities” with regard to the investigation.

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