OSNABRUECK, Germany — The vice president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, has become the first Catholic bishop in Germany to resign in connection with the abuse scandal. The Vatican announced March 25 that the pope had accepted his resignation. Bishop Bode resigned over “errors made in the handling of clergy sexual abuse cases,” KNA agency reported.
The move by the bishop of the northern German Diocese of Osnabrueck was met both with respect and regret by fellow bishops. To date, Pope Francis has rejected the resignations of other German bishops over the abuse scandal, including Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg. The pope has yet to decide on the resignation offer submitted by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne.
Bishop Bode, 72, said he was resigning primarily because of his own mistakes in the reappraisal of sexual abuse cases. He also said his “increasingly poor health” would prevent him from remaining in his post until he reached 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope, as reported by KNA.
Bishop Bode became an auxiliary bishop in Paderborn in 1991 and was appointed bishop of Osnabrueck in 1995. He has recently pushed ahead with reforms of the German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Path” and said he wanted to swiftly implement in his diocese resolutions approved during the final assembly of the German Synodal Way March 9-11, including providing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples and remarried divorcees. He also advocated giving laypeople and women more important roles in the Catholic Church.
Bishop Bode said the report published in September 2022 on the reappraisal of sexualized violence “once again clearly showed me my own mistakes in dealing with cases of abuse,” he told KNA. He acknowledged his responsibility as a bishop and that he had not paid enough attention to the victims for a long time. “Today, I can only ask all victims again to forgive me.”
The president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, expressed “great regret and respect” at Bishop Bode’s resignation. “I would have liked to see you at our side in the German Bishops’ Conference for more years. At the same time, I understand your decision and the consequences it entails. From the bottom of my heart, I express my thanks and appreciation for your work, both personally and on behalf of the German Bishops’ Conference,” Bishop Baetzing wrote to Bishop Bode.
Bishop Baetzing added that Bishop Bode had taken responsibility for the “issue of sexual abuse which has accompanied us all for a long time.”
Groups representing victims were critical, however. “Bishop Bode should have resigned earlier,” Matthias Katsch of the victims’ association “Eckiger Tisch” (Square Table) told Germany’s KNA agency.
The German government’s independent commissioner for sexual abuse issues, Kerstin Claus, told KNA that it should be clear that Bishop Bode was “by far not the only Catholic functionary who has not lived up to his responsibility in this matter.”