The forty-nine-year-old rector of the German diocese of Limburg, Dean Christof May, was found dead in a forest 10 kilometres northeast of Limburg on 9 June a day after being suspended by the Bishop of Limburg, Georg Bätzing, while accusations of assault against him were being investigated.
The priest’s body was found on the morning of 9 June not far from his parked car which was sighted by a police helicopter. An extensive search operation by the police, Red Cross and fire brigade had been started the day before after a farewell letter by him had been found.
In an official statement published on 10 June, the Limburg diocese announced the seminary rector’s death. “What happened is deeply shattering for us in the diocese and for many beyond. It has caused sadness and consternation and leaves many questions open. Especially for the bishop and those responsible for the diocesan staff and leadership, the prelate’s death is most depressing.”
The Limburg public prosecutor’s office has confirmed that the rector committed suicide. “After extensive investigations, no grounds for third party fault or legal offence that led to his death have been found”, a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office confirmed on 10 June.
After several allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” on May’s part had been received by the diocesan authorities in recent weeks, Bishop Bätzing, the head of the German bishops’ conference, had met with May on 8 June and had confronted him with the accusations, which had been recorded and checked to see if they were plausible by the diocesan authorities. As required by the German bishops’ conference’s guidelines on sexual abuse, Bätzing had then temporarily suspended May while further investigations were made.
May had been rector of the Limburg seminary since September 2018. He was also in charge of staff training. In 2019 he became a member of the seven-member Limburg cathedral chapter.
The rector was widely known and very popular, especially since his 2020 harvest festival sermon which went viral on Youtube, where it has since been called up 150,000 times. In it he called for allowing remarried divorcees to receive the sacraments, more understanding for homosexual relationships, permitting Protestants to partake of Catholic communion and for women’s ordination. Theologians who argued in favour of women’s ordination, he said, were being “muzzled”.
Conference president Bishop Bätzing already came under pressure for promoting a priest to dean in 2020 despite the fact that years before the priest had harassed women on two occasions. Bätzing’s view was that the harassment had taken place years ago and the priest had shown signs of remorse. At the beginning of June, however, the priest concerned stepped down and Bätzing admitted that his decision to promote him had been “wrong”. Today he would have consulted the Victims’ Council before taking such a decision.