Pope Francis accepts resignation of vice-president of German Bishops’ Conference

Catholic Herald [London, England]

March 27, 2023

By Thomas Colsy

Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of an influential German bishop who has been a key player in the German synodal process and come under pressure over his handling of clerical sex abuse cases in his diocese. 

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, 72, who has been vice-president of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) since 2017 and a keen advocate for reform in the Church, allegedly offered his resignation due to mishandling of sex abuse cases.

As recently as September last year, Bishop Bode of Osnabrück publicly refused to resign amid calls to do so following the release of a 600-page report entitled “Sexual violence against minors and vulnerable by clergy in the Diocese of Osnabrück since 1945”. 

The report incriminated Bode for “repeatedly” retaining in their posts or promoting clergy accused of abuse. 

Particular concern surrounded the fact that the bishop refused to take precautionary measures pertaining to clergy who were both accused of abuse and simultaneously held pastoral positions aimed at the care and oversight of young Catholics. 

His departure on 25 March came only days after the German Synodal Way disobeyed Vatican directives in a vote regarding the “blessings” of same-sex unions. It has been described as a “blow” to the German synodal process. 

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chair of the DBK and figurehead for the Synodal Way’s reforming ambitions, described the resignation as the “[loss] of his closest comrade in arms”.

Another spokesman at the DBK described Bode as the “episcopal engine” at the Synod, insisting the resignation “will clearly and permanently weaken the wing in the German Bishops’ Conference that is willing to reform and change”.

In 2018, Bode announced plans to initiate blessing ceremonies for same-sex unions in Germany, which under his influence was eventually ratified by the German synod five years later.

Bode has also voiced support for women in the diaconate and expressed his hope women would be enabled to lead “Eucharistic celebration[s]”. 

As a leader of the German Synod, Bishop Bode enjoyed a five-day meeting and private audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican during February 2022.

After bringing up the topics of contention regarding gender, sexual morality, marriage and the priesthood, and having reportedly told the Holy Father to “to keep the discussion open” regarding women’s ordination, Bode left the meeting confident and emboldened.

“A few years ago it would have been quite unthinkable for a Catholic bishop to speak out openly about such desires for church reform in the Vatican,” he remarked.

In addition to Bode, several other prominent German bishops 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.

(Photograph of Bishop Franz-Josef Bode courtesy of CNA)