Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of the Diocese of Osnabrück served as vice president of the German bishops’ conference from 2017 to 2023. / Courtesy of Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner
CNA Newsroom, Mar 25, 2023 / 08:56 am (CNA).
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a German bishop on Saturday who played a key role in the German Synodal Way and had come under pressure over his handling of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode had previously refused to step down, despite an abuse report finding he had mishandled cases in his diocese in northwestern Germany.
The Holy See announced March 25 that Pope Francis had accepted the bishop of Osnabrück’s request to resign, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported. There was no indication prior to Saturday’s announcement that Bode had offered to resign.
The 72-year-old bishop had been vice president of the German bishops’ conference since 2017.
Reacting to the news, Bishop Georg Bätzing — the conference president — said on Mar. 25: “Today I lose my closest companion on the Synodal Way, which still has many stages ahead of us.”
Only two weeks ago, Bode made headlines when he announced he would implement resolutions passed by the controversial process, including the introduction of liturgical blessings of same-sex unions. He previously publicly supported women deacons.
In a statement published Saturday, Bode said: “In the almost 32 years of my episcopal ministry, almost 28 of them as bishop of Osnabrück, I have borne responsibility in a church that has not only brought blessings but also guilt.”
“Especially 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,” Bode admitted. “I misjudged cases, often acted hesitantly, made many wrong decisions, and failed to live up to my responsibility as a bishop.”
Until two months ago, Bode repeatedly refused to resign, despite an interim abuse report published Sept. 20, 2022, finding he had mishandled abuse cases in the diocese he led since 1995.
The 600-page interim report was titled “Sexual violence against minors and vulnerable by clergy in the Diocese of Osnabrück since 1945.”
The report said in the first decades of his term, Bode “repeatedly” kept people accused of abuse in office or appointed them to other positions, including management tasks in youth pastoral care.
In December, an advisory body of sexual abuse survivors called for canonical procedures against Bode.
The victims’ council said it had filed an official complaint in Rome and referred to the decree Vos estis lux mundi, issued in 2019 by Pope Francis, which is aimed at providing norms and procedures for addressing the handling of clerical sexual abuse. The Vatican on Saturday announced that the pope has approved an updated version of those norms, which are now part of canon law.
In a statement accompanying their complaint, the council called on Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, head of the metropolitan archdiocese, to take “steps of action” against Bode.
In addition to Bode, several other prominent German bishops have been accused of mishandling cases of sexual abuse. They include Synodal Way initiator Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Synodal Way president Bishop Georg Bätzing — the successor to Marx as president of the bishops’ conference — and Hamburg’s Archbishop Heße.
All of them have so far remained in office.