German bishop Bode disappointed about Pope’s will to reform

The Vice-President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Osnabrueck’s Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, is disappointed with Pope Francis’ will to reform.

The Vice-President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Osnabrueck’s Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, is disappointed with the Vatican’s will to reform, including Pope Francis. Bode said in the “Interview of the Week” on Deutschlandfunk radio at Christmas that the Pope was obviously having a hard time with the apparatus in Rome, which has been well established for centuries: “I am disillusioned, I have to say. The writings at the beginning were great – ‘Evangelii gaudium’ and other writings like ‘Laudato si’ were highly acclaimed. But overall, it falls short of the expectations that were raised”.

The President of the Bishops’ Conference, Limburg’s Bishop Georg Baetzing, sees things differently. For him, Pope Francis is “clearly a reformer”, he said in an interview with Germany’s Catholic News Agency (KNA): “The almost ten years of Francis have been a stroke of luck for the Catholic Church, not only because of his own credibility in living life and preaching, but also with regard to the paths he is opening”. However, Baetzing also sees “a lot of room for improvement when it comes to transparent decision-making processes that involve many people”.

Bishop Bode also stressed that the reform process of the Catholic Church in Germany must continue, despite criticism from the Vatican. “It is essential that the institution changes. The so-called Synodal Path is therefore correct. Things that have been said and initiated in the context of the Synodal Path reform project cannot simply be swept under the rug and undone”, Bode warned. 

Among other things, Bode has long campaigned for women to be at least ordained deaconesses and for them to participate more in the Catholic Church overall. When asked if he was a feminist, he replied: “I’m very much in favour of equality between men and women. Sometimes you have to be feminist for that, because women haven’t had and still don’t have equal rights on these issues, and if it means that I’m very committed to women’s rights, then I would accept that word”.

The bishop was self-critical about the high numbers of people leaving the Church in Germany, including in his own diocese. He said he was most concerned with the question of what he personally had done to make people want to leave the Church: “I think I personally have also contributed to it”. The most painful thing is that more and more “people are also leaving the innermost part of the Church”, Bode said. He tries to keep in touch with former members as well, he said.

Bode also commented on a complaint filed against him in the Vatican by victims of abuse. Among other things, he is accused of having played down sexualised violence as a relationship. He said that the accused priest had spoken of a romantic relationship at the time and that it had been a serious mistake to record this in the files.

But he himself, the bishop continued, had at most used the word relationship in quotation marks from the files. It was clear to him that this term was completely wrong. In principle, however, there is a temptation to let the bishop’s “fatherliness towards the accused prevail over a feeling for the suffering of the victim”, Bode admitted.

After a study on abuse in the Osnabrueck diocese, he had wrestled with himself for a long time over whether to offer his resignation, but then decided to remain in office, he added. He felt that many bodies in the diocese “gave me a lot of support” and wanted to continue to move forward together with him and achieve reform: “And that is why I then decided to stay, which is not an easy path, because it is now still in question, also due to this complaint in the Vatican”, Bode explained. The 71-year-old has been Bishop of Osnabrück since 1995 and is thus the longest-serving member of the German Bishops’ Conference.

*Originally reported by KNA Germany. 

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