Pope Francis accepted the resignation Saturday of one of Germany’s leading Catholic bishops.
Bode is 72, three years below the age when diocesan bishops are required to offer their resignations to the pope. He is the deputy chairman of the country’s bishops’ conference and one of the four chief organizers of the controversial “synodal way.”
Days after the synodal way’s final plenary meeting on March 9-11, Bode invited same-sex and remarried couples to contact his diocese about receiving blessings after the synodal way endorsed “blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other.”
The move openly defied a 2021 Vatican declaration that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.”
Bode had led the Osnabrück diocese since 1995, was Germany’s longest-serving diocesan bishop, and was elected deputy bishops’ conference chairman in 2017.
He has faced growing pressure to resign since the publication last September of a damning report on the handling of cases in the Osnabrück diocese.
The 600-page interim report, prepared by the University of Osnabrück, accused Bode of negligence. The bishop accepted the report’s criticisms, but said that he would not resign because he wanted to oversee the process of strengthening safeguarding procedures in the diocese.
In December, the Vatican received a canonical complaint against Bode, concerning the bishop’s handling of abuse cases in the diocese, which was expected to lead to an investigation under Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi. The Vatican has made no public comment on the complaint against Bode.
Bode’s resignation was announced on the same day that the pope promulgated a revised version of the motu proprio.
In a March 25 statement, the bishop said that the decision to resign had “matured in me in recent months.”
“In the almost 32 years of my episcopal ministry, including almost 28 years as Bishop of Osnabrück, I bore responsibility in a Church that has not only brought blessings, but has also incurred guilt,” he said.
“Particularly in dealing with cases of sexualized violence by clergy, for a long time, I myself tended to focus more on the perpetrators and the institution than on the victims.”
“I misjudged cases, often acted hesitantly and made some wrong decisions, and failed to live up to my responsibility as a bishop at these points.”
He added: “I expressly acknowledge my responsibility as well as my personal mistakes, and today I can only once again ask all those affected for forgiveness.”
Reflecting on the conclusions of the synodal way, Bode said that they would “require extensive dialogues at the level of the bishops’ conference, with those responsible in Rome and with the participants in the world synod.”
“This further path will still require a lot of strength, which I myself can no longer muster,” he said. “For I have noticed that my health, which is increasingly failing, no longer allows me to carry out my leadership tasks in Osnabrück and in the Church in Germany in the manner required for the office for another three years until I reach the age of 75.”
German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing paid tribute to Bode, saying that he had received the news of his resignation with “great regret and respect.”
“With you, I lose today my closest comrade-in-arms on the synodal way, which still has many stages in store for us,” he said.