29 March 2023, The Tablet

Pope accepts resignation of German bishop over abuse cover-up

The German Victims’ Advisory Board filed a canonical complaint against Bishop Franz-Josef Bode in December last year.

Pope accepts resignation of German bishop over abuse cover-up

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, pictured in September last year at a press conference on his diocese's abuse report.
DPA Picture Alliance/Alamy

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the vice-president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, who is aged 72.

Bode, the German Church's longest-serving bishop, was accused of hushing up abuse in the Osnabrück abuse report of September 2022.

Three months later, the German Victims’ Advisory Board filed a canonical complaint against him for not dealing appropriately with clerical sexual abuse cases. It was the first time that a victims’ board had ever filed an indictment against a bishop in Germany.

Up to now Bode, who is also a member of the presidium of the German synodal path initiative for Church reform, has repeatedly refused to step down.

But on 25 March, the German bishops’ conference announced that the Pope had received and accepted Bode’s offer of resignation.

In a press statement, Bode said he had once again gone through the 2022 abuse report and now saw quite clearly the mistakes he had made.

“I expressly acknowledge my responsibility as also my personal mistakes and today can only ask all those concerned for forgiveness. My decision to resign matured slowly over the past few months.

“I underestimated the extent of the irritations – particularly those of my diocesan co-workers – some of whom have meanwhile lost all trust in me,” Bode declared in his lengthy statement.

One of the reasons why he had declined to step down until now was that he had wanted to see the synodal path initiative for Church reform through its last and final session, he explained.

Conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing expressed his deep regret and great respect for Bode and thanked him for his long service to the Church.

“I have lost my closest comrade-in-arms on the synodal path and would very much have liked to have you at my side in the coming years. But I understand your decision,” Bätzing underlined.

Bode’s decision to step down was an “important example of assumption of responsibility, both as far as his person was concerned as also as a representative of the Osnabrück diocese”, the German government’s independent commissioner for child sexual abuse, Kerstin Claus, told KNA.

This is the first time that the Pope has accepted a German bishop’s offer of resignation in connection with hushing up clerical sexual abuse.

After the publication of the Cologne and Munich abuse reports, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg and Bishops Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff – both auxiliary bishops of Cologne – offered their resignations to the Pope but Francis has up to now declined to accept them.

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