Allegation that Cardinal Woelki is being deliberately kept in post to block reform

Bishop Bode leaves - and what will become of Woelki?

The Bishop of Osnabrück is leaving his post: The Pope has now accepted his corresponding request. In the case of the Cardinal of Cologne, he is still hesitating - or is there now movement in the Woelki case?

It is a novelty for Germany: for the first time a Catholic bishop has resigned in connection with the cases of sexualised violence in the Catholic Church. Franz-Josef Bode had submitted a corresponding request to the Pope. Reason: "Particularly in dealing with cases of sexualised violence by clerics, I myself have for a long time tended to focus on the perpetrators and the institution rather than the victims."

The Pope has now granted this request, the Vatican announced. The reactions were divided: The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, noted the resignation with "great regret and respect", but showed understanding for "the decision and the consequences it entails".

Johannes Norpoth, spokesman for the Bishops' Conference's Advisory Council, on the other hand, told WDR: "Today is a good day for victims and for the Church. He also immediately went further, asking what significance the acceptance of the resignation has: "Does responsibility in abuse matters now play a role after all? Or is a liberal bishop being dismissed from office here, while the conservative bishop of Cologne still remains in office?"

The Cardinal as a brake block

This refers to Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, who has been criticised in the archdiocese above all for his handling of abuse cases. In February 2022, he offered his resignation to Francis, but he has not yet decided on it. There is speculation about the reasons for this. Christina Zühlke, who has been following the debates on the abuse cases for years for the WDR, names a theory: "Perhaps the conservative Bishop Woelki was supposed to serve as a kind of brake block in the Bishops' Conference and in the Synodal Path so far" - in other words, to make the reform process that the Catholic Church in Germany has initiated more difficult.

Why is Woelki still in office?

The plenary meetings on the Synodal Way have been concluded since mid-March. Would this clear the way for the Pope to accept Woelki's request as well - and is Bode's resignation a signal in this direction? Zühlke is cautious: for one thing, Woelki is young; requests for resignation are normally only accepted when the bishop is 75 years old. The fact that Bode was allowed to leave before then was probably due to his poor health.

On the other hand, the Pope would have had reason to part with Woelki several times: "The visitators were there and examined his conduct in office," says Zühlke. "Now even the public prosecutor's office is investigating him. But still nothing has happened." So it remains the case: the Bode case is an isolated incident.