Some people in the Catholic Church are still more equal than others when it comes to dealing with abuse

The resignation of Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode is supposed to regain credibility. Instead, the whole affair shows that some people in the Catholic Church are still more equal than others when it comes to dealing with abuse. Above all, the timing raises questions.

Catholic bishops usually have a relaxed relationship with the word "I". Except when it comes to responsibility for the sexual abuse scandal. Then they like to seek their salvation in the collective: "We as a Church" have made mistakes, they say, or they point to the "systemic causes", for which they, as high-ranking churchmen, can of course somehow also do something - in other words, in a very abstract and general way.

Therefore, Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode deserves respect for what he said on Saturday to justify his spectacular resignation. "I" or "myself" occurs more than once in it. "I misjudged cases, often acted hesitantly and sometimes made wrong decisions," Bode said. This clarity may well set the style for the further reappraisal. After all.

Cathcon: Talking about this as an institutional problem often is used to conceal and downplay individual sinfulness, which got the Catholic Church into this mess in the first place.

Everything else about the Bode case, however, can only serve as a cautionary tale, if at all. It has made it glaringly clear how far the Catholic Church still falls short of its own standards, not least when it seems politically opportune.

German bishops among themselves - "Experience us now as extraordinarily confrontational"

As early as September 2022, an expert report had come to the conclusion that Bode had repeatedly violated his duties in dealing with sexual abuse. But he refused to resign at the time, did not even send the results to Rome at first - and could trust that public pressure on him, as a resolute progressive, would never become as great as on a conservative like Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.

Cathcon:  A shocking statement if there ever was one.

In fact, even the reformers of the "Synodal Path", who, according to their own statements, primarily want to fight the causes of abuse, reacted with disarming mildness to the Osnabrück revelations. They even put up with the fact that Bode continued to sit on the four-member synod presidium, i.e. the decisive top committee.

Worse still, the timing raises doubts about the voluntariness of Bode's renunciation. As late as December, he defended his refusal to resign by saying that he could only be blamed for moral, not legal mistakes. However, as the Diocese of Osnabrück informed WELT, Bode sent his letter of resignation to the Pope only a few weeks later, on 21 January.

Did these few weeks really only bring a new inner insight? Or did Bode simply fear consequences under church law? He would have had reason to do so: It was precisely during this period that the Victims Advisory Council of the North German bishops filed an official complaint against him with the responsible archbishop of Hamburg, which was forwarded directly to Rome.

According to the Diocese, Bode had already known since the end of February that Pope Francis would accept his resignation. It would have been consistent and credible to at least suspend his Presidency of the "Synodal Path" for the decisive Synodal Assembly at the beginning of March. Bode opted for the path of secrecy. Once again.

As a thank you, he was able to read an effusive appreciation from the President of the German Bishops' Conference this weekend: "I would have liked to see you at our side for more years," wrote Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing - also a friend of courageous reform steps. The impression suggests itself: Double standards are being applied here.



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