Canonical complaint filed against senior German bishop

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

December 22, 2022

By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

The indictment of Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück is the first ever filed by a victims’ board against a bishop in Germany.

The German Victims’ Advisory Board has filed a canonical complaint against Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück for hushing up clerical sexual abuse.

Bode is the vice president of the bishops’ conference and of the synodal way. 

The Victims’ Advisory Board for the north German dioceses of Osnabrück, Hildesheim and Hamburg announced its decision on Monday 12 December.

It is the first time that a victims’ board has ever filed an indictment against a bishop in Germany.

Bode was quick to reply: “I fully respect the step the board has taken and support the thus-initiated investigation by the Vatican authorities”, he said.

He would send the entire interim abuse report by the University of Osnabrück which his diocese had commissioned and excerpts from which had been quoted by the board, to the Vatican, Bode said.

“I will naturally face up to the results of this investigation,” he added.

In the Osnabrück abuse report published in September 2022, Bode was accused of hushing up abuse, but the experts who conducted the investigations emphasised that “within the last 10 years” Bode had shown “clear signs of improvement”.

After the publication of the report in September, Bode declined to step down. At the beginning of this month he again emphasised that he was abiding by his decision not to step down. 

But the victims’ board is convinced that under canon law Bode is guilty of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

“Bishop Bode has acted contrary to clear papal guidelines. Only this year he described the sexual violation of a minor (a 14-year-old girl at the time of the abuse) as a ‘relationship’”, the Board pointed out in its statement. 

The indictment was filed with Archbishop Stephan Hesse of Hamburg who is Metropolitan of the three north German dioceses. He will pass the indictment on to the responsible dicastery in the Vatican, which must react within 30 days. 

Hesse himself was accused in the 2018 Cologne Abuse Report of mishandling 11 clerical abuse cases when he was vicar general of Cologne from 2012-2014. In March 2021 he offered Pope Francis his resignation.

Francis refused to accept it but granted Hesse leave of absence. Five months later on 15 September, the Pope reinstated Hesse as Archbishop of Hamburg.

The Pope’s decision to reinstate Hesse was widely and scathingly criticised.