German bishop must face Vatican investigation, abuse council demands

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

December 12, 2022

By AC Wimmer

An advisory body of sexual abuse survivors on Monday called for canonical procedures against the vice president of the German Bishops’ Conference.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode should be charged under canon law for his handling of abuse cases, the advisory council said in a statement sent to media Dec. 12, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The advisory body represents those affected by sexual abuse for the metropolitan archdiocese of Hamburg and the dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück.

Under pressure for months to resign following the findings of a study that he has mishandled cases of sexual abuse, Bode has so far refused to step down.

The 71-year-old bishop of Osnabrück in northwestern Germany has been vice president of the German bishops’ conference since 2017. He is also vice president of the German Synodal Way.

On Monday, the victims’ advisory council said it had filed an official complaint and referred to the decree “Vos estis lux mundi,” issued in 2019 by Pope Francis, which is aimed at providing norms and procedures for addressing the handling of clerical sexual abuse.

In their complaint against Bode, the council called on Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, head of the metropolitan archdiocese, to take “steps of action” against Bode.

The victims’ advisory council said Bode had “acted contrary to clear papal guidelines.”

“Overall, we see a clear misconduct under canon law on the part of Bishop Bode,” the statement said with a view to one case of abuse allegedly mishandled by the German prelate.

The council asked Archbishop Heße “to forward our complaint immediately to the Roman dicasteries and to inform us of the progress of the proceedings.”

A report published Sept. 20 said Bode mishandled abuse cases in the Diocese of Osnabrück, which he has led since 1995.

The 600-page interim report is titled “Sexual violence against minors and vulnerable by clergy in the Diocese of Osnabrück since 1945.”

“We recognize the progress made in the Diocese of Osnabrück with the installation of the diocesan protection concept as correct and important steps, but we still perceive in the actions of Bishop Bode a more perpetrator-oriented than victim-oriented attitude,” the victims’ advisory council said on Monday.

The survivors’ organization, therefore, called on Bode “to take moral responsibility for the suffering caused by him — irrespective of the standards of criminal law.”

“Criminal law alone cannot be the litmus test for a bishop, and ‘Vos estis lux mundi’ here speaks a canonically clear language,” it said.

The council’s statement on Dec. 12 added that it was “very difficult” for members affected by sexual violence “to see Bishop Bode as a counterpart who is committed to honest and consistent processing of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church.”

It was now up to Bode to decide for himself “what personal consequences he wants to draw.”

In a first reaction on Monday afternoon, the accused bishop reacted with a brief statement, saying he would cooperate and “of course, face the result of this investigation,” CNA Deutsch reported.

So far, not a single case of a German bishop being made the subject of a Vos estis investigation has been undertaken by the Vatican.

Several prominent German prelates have been accused of mishandling cases of sexual abuse. They include Synodal Way initiator Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Synodal Way president Bishop Georg Bätzing — the successor to Marx as president of the bishops’ conference — and Hamburg’s Archbishop Heße.

All of them have so far remained in office.

“I respect this step of the Council of Concerned and support the investigation thus initiated by the Roman authorities,” Bode said in his statement published Dec. 12.

“To the responsible dicasteries in the Vatican, I will forward, in addition to the excerpts already described by the [council], the entire interim report that the University of Osnabrück has prepared on behalf of our diocese for investigation.”

Bode is an outspoken supporter of the Synodal Way’s processes and resolutions. He has publicly supported women deacons and a Church ceremony for blessing same-sex unions.

AC Wimmer is founding Editor-in-Chief of CNA Deutsch. A former senior executive with public broadcaster SBS and graduate of the University of Melbourne and Monash University (Australia), he has worked as a journalist across the globe. Before joining EWTN News, the Australian with Bavarian roots was Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Munich.