In the Archdiocese of Cologne, an increasingly clear mood is emerging against a return of Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

The "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" reported on Thursday that Woelki's closest advisory body, the Archbishop's Council, had almost unanimously spoken out against it.

The archbishop's council includes the current administrator of the archdiocese, Rolf Steinhäuser, the auxiliary bishops Ansgar Puff and Dominikus Schwaderlapp, and vicar general Markus Hofmann.

Woelki is currently on a five-month break, but wants to resume his official duties on March 2nd.

Church circles commented on the newspaper's report that the Archbishop's Council did not vote on Woelki's return.

But it was talked about, and the mood was mostly skeptical.

Warning letter sent to Vatican

Woelki's communications director Christoph Hardt told Domradio that the Archbishop's Council had worked in a constructive atmosphere on scenarios for the period after March 2nd.

Concern about the future of the church in Cologne was also expressed.

There was also skepticism that a future with Cardinal Woelki at the top could prosper.

It is all the more important to restore an atmosphere of trust.

That is precisely why it was agreed not to vote for or against the cardinal's return.

Hardt himself is leaving office at the end of this month after only a short time at his own request.

As reported by diocese circles, the cathedral chapter is also skeptical about Woelki's return.

Furthermore, the city and district deans signed a warning letter to the Vatican.

The deans are the regional heads of the diocese.

Crisis of confidence in the diocese

A few weeks ago there was a secret vote on Woelki in the diocesan pastoral council.

Several high-ranking participants estimate that 70 to 80 percent opposed Woelki's return.

The diocesan council, which represents the laity, had publicly expressed criticism.

The Archdiocese of Cologne has been in a crisis of confidence for a year and a half, which is reflected, among other things, in a sharp increase in people leaving the church.

The 2020 crisis was triggered by Woelki's decision not to publish an expert opinion from the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm on how diocese officials deal with allegations of sexual abuse.

He cited legal reasons for this and commissioned a new report instead.

Last year, Pope Francis sent two envoys to Cologne to prepare a confidential report on the situation in the archdiocese.

On this basis, Francis decided that Woelki could remain in office even though he had made "big mistakes".

However, Woelki went on a five-month break, which he spent in the Netherlands, among other places.

On Ash Wednesday, however, he wants to return and celebrate a festive mass in Cologne Cathedral.