No matter what humiliation the Vatican has come up with for Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki in the past few months, Woelki has at least never failed to thank him in a polite manner.

The visitation of the Archdiocese of Cologne ordered by Rome in June 2021? Greeted Woelki as “good and right”. His own sabbatical of several months? He transfigured to his own great wish, which had matured in him “longer”: “The Pope found this idea very good, he supported and strengthened me in it and then also granted me such a time,” said Woelki when announcing his temporary retreat.

The message should be at all costs: Don’t be under any illusions, there’s no match between Rome and me, the Pope is behind me. And no matter how many outraged believers distribute leaflets in front of the cathedral.

The passages of an interview that Pope Francis gave to the European cultural magazines of the Jesuit order a few weeks ago and that was published on Tuesday read all the more mercilessly. There, Francis says of the Cologne events of the past year: “When the situation was very turbulent, I asked the Archbishop to go away for six months so that things would calm down and I could see more clearly.”

Now one does not have to be a curial secretary to grasp the meaning of the papal phrase “I asked him”. But even if Francis had only meant his “request” as an open-ended proposal among brothers: in this version there is no talk of Woelki’s own initiative. And the Pope continues: “When he came back (meaning: from the break), I asked him to write a letter of resignation. He did this and gave it to me. And he wrote a letter of apology to the diocese.”

There are sentences that sound very casual, but have serious consequences for Woelki’s already damaged credibility.

Because here the Pope says in no uncertain terms: The suggestion (on the binding nature of papal “requests”: see above) to make his office available did not come from Woelki, but from Francis. This contradicts the previous representation of the Archbishop of Cologne. He had also presented his offer to resign from office on Ash Wednesday in a very personal pastoral letter to all believers as his own knowledge: as the fruit of a spiritual process.

In the letter, Woelki formulated: “Over and over again in the past few months – praying and working – I have reflected and meditated on my actions and the situation in our archdiocese.” to give”: “As an expression of this attitude of inner freedom (sic!), I have made my service and office as Archbishop of Cologne available to the Holy Father, so that he too is free to decide what is in the best interests of the Church of Cologne serves the most.”

Whether Francis still had these passages in his head and deliberately wanted to thwart them, only he knows. One thing is clear: the obvious contradiction between the Woelki version and the Franziskus version is more than a hobby for those who love detail. He touches on the fundamental question that has been smoldering since Woelki’s return to Cologne, how sincerely he means his new beginning, how seriously his signals of critical ability and insight into his own misconduct are to be taken.

And finally, the Pope’s interview proves the continuation of a strange Machiavellian style of government in Rome, which Francis allegedly always wanted to overcome. Instead of his cardinal – and the church people! – finally announcing a clear decision, Francis keeps things in agonizing limbo.

“I left him in place to see what would happen, but I have his resignation in hand.” Such blatant threats can be a great way to keep your people on track, to the point of resorting to humiliation if necessary thank. However, this does not promote a fair, transparent and, well, Christian management culture.