A senior German bishop said Tuesday that he has accepted responsibility for failings highlighted in an interim study of his diocese’s handling of abuse cases.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode reacted with dismay on Sept. 20 to the findings of a 600-page report addressing allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct since 1945 in the Diocese of Osnabrück.
Bode, who has led the diocese in northwestern Germany since 1995, said: “I had wanted this interim report so that the truth would also come to light as quickly as possible. Now I am very concerned about how blind we have actually been and how blind I have been for the suffering and the perspectives of those affected.”
“I bear responsibility for this, also for the system in the diocese. I will study the text this afternoon and have conversations, and we will thoroughly discuss what the way forward will be.”
Bode has served as deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference since 2017 and is one of the four members of the executive committee overseeing the country’s controversial “synodal way.”
The 71-year-old bishop has gained international attention for his advocacy of female deacons and blessings for same-sex couples.
The interim report is entitled “Sexual violence against minors and vulnerable by clergy in the Diocese of Osnabrück since 1945.”
It was prepared by the University of Osnabrück, and criticized the handling of abuse allegations during Bode’s tenure, and under the leadership of his deceased predecessors, Bishop Helmut Hermann Wittler (who led the diocese from 1957 to 1987) and Archbishop Ludwig Averkamp (1987-1994).
“Bishops have an individual responsibility when deciding on the further use of accused persons. Bishops Wittler and Averkamp hardly fulfilled this responsibility in the cases investigated and on several occasions made it possible for further acts to be committed,” the study 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.”
The report acknowledged that Bode made an “outstanding gesture” in 2010, when he prostrated himself before the altar of Osnabrück Cathedral during a penitential service in acknowledgement of the Church’s failure to tackle abuse.
It said the gesture was “accompanied by a promise to fully exhaust aid for the victims,” but “this was not implemented in his diocese’s administrative practice toward those affected.”
Bode is due to discuss the interim study at a press conference on Thursday.
The public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk reported that “experts believe it is possible that the bishop of Osnabrück may offer his resignation to the pope.”
Several German dioceses have already published extensive 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.
The final report on the Diocese of Osnabrück is expected to be published in September 2024. The three-year study was commissioned by the diocese, which gave the University of Osnabrück 1.3 million euros to carry out the project.