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Leading German bishop to stay in post despite damning report

The deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference acknowledged that he had ‘acted negligently in some cases.’

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode speaks at a press conference on Sept. 22, 2022. © Screenshot from Bistum Osnabrück YouTube channel.

A leading German bishop said on Thursday that he will remain in office despite a damning report on the handling of abuse cases in his diocese.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode told journalists at a press conference on Sept. 22 that he had discussed whether to resign as bishop of Osnabrück, northwestern Germany, with the safeguarding expert Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J.

Zollner is a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the founding president of Rome’s Centre for Child Protection.

Bode said he had decided to stay in post to see the process of strengthening safeguarding procedures through to its conclusion.

The bishop held the press conference two days after Osnabrück University published a 600-page interim report scrutinizing abuse cases in the Diocese of Osnabrück since 1945. The study accused Bode and his predecessors of safeguarding failures.

It said: “In the first decades of his term of office, Bishop Bode repeatedly left accused persons in their offices, even those whose danger could hardly be doubted, or appointed them to offices that made further opportunities for committing crimes possible, e.g. as assistant and parish administrator, or even entrusted them with leadership tasks in youth pastoral care.”

Bode, who has led the diocese since 1995, read from a six-page statement at the press conference.

The statement said: “The interim report documents significant shortcomings and serious mistakes, many of which were made during my term of office. I bear responsibility for this. I myself acted negligently in some cases.”

“[Osnabrück University] Professor Schulte-Nölke spoke of ‘breaches of duty of care’ when presenting the report. That was perhaps due to my gullibility or hesitation. But it was never done with the intention of deliberately covering up or bending the law.”

“I ask forgiveness from all those who have suffered even more than they had already because of my errors and omissions; also from all those who have been disappointed by my actions.”

The statement continued: “I have considered intensively the question of whether, after the results of this study, I can still remain in office or offer my resignation to the pope. This question is all the more urgent for me because I am aware that my credibility is severely damaged.”

“I have consulted with close colleagues and decided to devote all my energy in my remaining term of office to the tasks and duties already indicated in the interim report, and also to face up to the results of the final report. I want to be measured by this commitment.”

The bishop will be 73 — just two years short of the retirement age for diocesan bishops — when Osnabrück University publishes its final report.

At Thursday’s press conference, he announced new measures to improve the handling of abuse cases in his diocese.

Bode was elected deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference in 2017 and is one of four members of a committee overseeing the country’s controversial “synodal way,” which is presented as a response to a devastating clerical abuse crisis in Germany.

The bishop has gained international attention for his support of female deacons and blessings for same-sex couples.

Several German dioceses have already published final reports on their handling of historical abuse cases, including the Archdiocese of Cologne, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freiberg, and the Diocese of Münster.

Other dioceses have commissioned reports, such as the Diocese of Essen, the Archdiocese of Freiburg, the Diocese of Mainz, the Diocese of Passau, and the Diocese of Trier.

Senior German bishops have offered their resignations to Pope Francis in the past two years, often following criticism of their handling of abuse cases. They include Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Heße, Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The pope has so far declined to accept the resignations.

The final report on the Diocese of Osnabrück is due to be published in September 2024. The three-year study was commissioned by the diocese, which gave Osnabrück University 1.3 million euros for the project.

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