Bishop responsible to large degree for Synodal Path chaos in Germany resigns

Bätzing: Losing "closest comrade-in-arms" along the Synodal Path with Bode

The resignation of Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode triggered numerous reactions on Saturday. While confreres of the 72-year-old expressed regret at the move, an initiative of victims criticised the timing of the resignation.

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The resignation of Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode triggered a variety of reactions on Saturday. While the 72-year-old's confreres and the Catholic Council of the Lower Saxony diocese expressed their regret at the resignation, the "Eckiger Tisch" initiative of those affected criticised the timing of the move as belated.

The President of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), Bishop Georg Bätzing, expressed his "great regret and respect" for Bode's resignation. "I would have liked to see you at our side in the German Bishops' Conference for more years. At the same time, I understand your decision and the consequences it entails. From the bottom of my heart, I express my thanks and appreciation for your work, both personally and on behalf of the German Bishops' Conference," the Limburg Bishop said. Bode had experienced more than 60 plenary assemblies and around 135 meetings of the Permanent Council in more than three decades. "Certainly, the task was sometimes difficult for you and your health suffered as a result. But you have filled the tasks and challenges with heart and soul to this day," the DBK president explained.

"You were and are a bishop for the people at eye level".

In his statement, Bätzing praised, among other things, Bode's services as chairman of the DBK Youth Commission at the World Youth Days: "Many things have remained from the World Youth Day: You gladly spoke of the 'biotopes of faith' that can still be experienced in many places in our country." As the long-standing chairman of the Pastoral Commission, Bode also made a significant contribution to the basic document "Being Church Together" from 2015. "You were and are a bishop for people at eye level. You have succeeded in this in a special way with your theological thoughts, the countless pastoral letters and your heartfelt concern to combine theology, faith and spirituality. Whoever experiences you understands your words, your message and your theology," explained Bätzing.

In addition, the DBK President thanked Bode for his commitment to the Synodal Path: "Not only as Vice-President have you contributed in countless meetings, in order to let an authentic view of things flow into many documents with your experience and knowledge of the pastoral needs in the parishes." In dialogue with women, theologians and women religious, he said, it was Bode's concern to ask the pressing questions about the role of women in the Church during the reform process. "With you, I am losing my closest comrade-in-arms along the Synodal Path today, which still has many stages in store for us," Bätzing said verbatim.

The Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Heße, also expressed his regret at Bode's resignation.

The Bishop of Limburg explicitly referred to Bode's handling of abuse cases in the Osnabrück diocese, which was one of the reasons for his resignation. With his step, Bode "also takes responsibility for the topic of sexual abuse in the church, which has accompanied you and all of us for a long time. You asked for an apology early on. Your penitential service in 2010 is unforgotten, when you - stretched out on the floor in front of the altar - asked for forgiveness in the name of the Church."

Bode's will to come to terms with the past, to improve the treatment of those affected and perpetrators and also to bring about systemic change in the Church has not let go of the 72-year-old since then. Bätzing continued: "It was a struggle within you, an inner turmoil, sometimes also the disappointment of your confreres - and it is your acceptance of responsibility, expressed by you today, that you did not always sufficiently fulfil your episcopal duty and the primary care for the victims of sexual violence. You also deserve respect for this and I see it with great appreciation that you do not omit this reason - as one of several reasons for your requested resignation."

Heße: Express my respect to Bode

Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Heße, to whose metropolis the Osnabrück Diocese belongs, also expressed his regret. There is a long and close bond between the Archdiocese of Hamburg and the Diocese of Osnabrück, he said in a statement on Saturday. Heße said of Bode: "And so I thank him for his service in our metropolis and the good fraternal cooperation." Until 1995, the present Archdiocese of Hamburg also belonged to the Diocese of Osnabrück. With his resignation, Bode is "taking responsibility for the issue of sexual abuse in our Church, which is with us all. I express my respect to him for this," said Heße.

The chairperson of the Catholic Council in the Osnabrück Diocese, Katharina Abeln, showed in her reaction that she was "personally very touched and surprised". She very much regretted the decision to resign, but also wanted to express her "great respect" for Bode's assumption of responsibility. Bode had led and shaped the Osnabrück diocese for over 25 years - as a Bishop, pastor, visionary and reformer. "For us, this is not only the end of an era in the Osnabrück diocese, but with Bishop Bode also goes a fellow campaigner on many other levels, especially also in the Bishops' Conference, who has placed many topics and issues well, fought for them and taken them further," Abeln said.

At the same time, she also directed her gaze forward. Together with the councils, committees and parishes of the diocese, important milestones had been marked for the diocese in the past, which had been shaped for many years by the pastoral discussions on the future and not least by the prompt implementation of groundbreaking resolutions of the Synodal Path - "behind this we cannot and must not go back", explained the chairperson of the Catholic Council.

In contrast, Matthias Katsch, executive director of the "Eckiger Tisch" initiative, described Bode's resignation as "right and important". At the same time, Katsch criticised the timing of the step in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA): "It would have been better if he had taken responsibility for how he dealt with cases of sexual child abuse by his priests in the past right after the presentation of the study by the University of Osnabrück last autumn."

Katsch: How do untainted bishops get into office now?

With regard to Bode's statements on his own failure to deal with cases of abuse in his area of responsibility in the Osnabrück diocese, Katsch explained: "One would like Bishop Bode, as well as other bishops, to realise that they cannot simply excuse themselves and then carry on according to the motto: I was part of this abuse system and protected perpetrators, but because I know the system so well from the inside, I am also the suitable man to change it." Apparently, the accountability for bishops who had protected perpetrators in the past "has only worked selectively so far". The question urgently needs to be addressed, he said: "How do unburdened bishops now come into office who can credibly make the break with the dark past?"

Franz-Josef Bode had surprisingly resigned as Bishop of Osnabrück on Saturday. At noon, the diocese and the Vatican simultaneously announced that Pope Francis had accepted Bode's request to resign. Bode had been Bishop of Osnabrück since 1995 and was the longest-serving bishop in Germany. In addition to health reasons, Bode cited his own mistakes in dealing with sexual abuse as the reason for his resignation. For example, the interim report published in September on coming to terms with sexualised violence in the Osnabrück diocese "once again clearly demonstrated his own mistakes in dealing with cases of abuse".

The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, described Bode as a "bishop with heart and attitude". From the point of view of those affected, his resignation from office certainly marks an important step towards making real progress on the path of dealing with the abuse scandal at the diocesan level. And further: "To learn from one's own mistakes and to act decisively is a sign of strength and insight. Bishop Bode has taken this path. That is good. At the same time, it shows that he has sensitively perceived a changing mood in his diocese." At the same time, the ZdK President emphasised Bode's commitment to the Synodal Path. As a member of the Presidium, the Bishop had played a decisive role in shaping it and had repeatedly given it a voice.

Stetter-Karp also appreciated Bode's confession at the time of his resignation that in matters of abuse he himself had for a long time focused more on the perpetrators and the institution than on those affected. This shows a fundamental problem of the Church, the ZdK President explained: "Exactly this line of vision is typical of decades of Church action. The paradigm shift was not initiated until 2010, and in many dioceses only hesitantly. Until today, questions remain unanswered, those affected are not sufficiently in view. In retrospect, I see once again how important the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany was. There we confronted the systemic causes of the abuse scandal." However, a real structural change of the Church had not been achieved. This remains the task of the continuing Synodal Path.

Victims Council sees "important sign of visible acceptance of responsibility".

The joint council of the Archdiocese of Hamburg and the dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück called Bode's resignation an "important sign of visible acceptance of responsibility" and a "groundbreaking step in the right direction". "We are very confident that the reappraisal and protection process, which was installed in the Osnabrück diocese by Bishop Bode in 2019, will continue to be pursued constructively and purposefully," the Council announced. It went on to say that Bishop Bode's "ultimately consistent action should be a model for other responsible persons" in the German dioceses.

The Victims Council had reported Bode to the Church in December because of his handling of cases of sexualised violence. By filing the complaint with Archbishop Heße of Hamburg, they wanted to remind Bode not to act in a perpetrator-oriented way, but rather in a victim-oriented way, and to take personal responsibility, the Victims Council explained.



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