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German bishop quits after storm over abuse case errors

March 25, 2023

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop of Osnabrück Franz-Josef Bode, who has faced heavy criticism over his handling of sexual abuse cases. In departing, Bode admitted he had made mistakes.

Bischof Franz-Josef Bode Rücktritt
Bode is the first German bishop to actually step down because of the scandal of abuse in the Catholic ChurchImage: Friso Gentsch/dpa/picture alliance

The Vatican on Saturday announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Franz-Josef Bode after nearly three decades as bishop of the northwestern city of Osnabrück.

Bode came in for fierce criticism for his handling of abuse cases in the church,  being accused of showing too much sympathy for the perpetrators.

What do we know about the resignation?

The Vatican gave no further reason for the pope accepting the resignation of the bishop, who until now had resisted calls to step down despite admitting "negligence in certain cases."

In a personal statement on Saturday, Bode said he had underestimated the upset that had been caused, particularly among diocese staff.

"I expressly acknowledge my responsibility as to my personal mistakes, and can only today again ask everyone concerned for forgiveness," he said.

"I wish that my now completed resignation as bishop can also have a liberating effect against this background."

A diocese spokesman said that Bode had tendered his resignation some time ago.

Why was the bishop under pressure?

Weighing against Bode had been an interim report last year from a three-year study by Osnabrück University into the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The Catholic Church in Crisis

The report found that the diocese, which takes in parts of the state of Lower Saxony and of the city-state of Bremen, had dealt with cases of sexual abuse in a bureaucratic and dismissive way.

Up to the year 2000, it found the diocese had "violated the obligation to take appropriate measures to prevent further crimes, some of them seriously."

Priests posing a danger to their congregations had been left in office and simply transferred, the report said.

"Seriously incriminated suspects were released from their duties, but continued to be employed in parishes, for example, where they came into contact with altar boys or performed youth pastoral work," the report said.

Bode took charge of the diocese in 1995, and the report acknowledged that there had been improvements more recently, with offending priests having been removed from their posts.

It said there had been no financial compensation for the suffering caused in older cases. The study has identified 70 offending clerics in the diocese since 1945.

In December, a victims council contacted the Vatican and filed a complaint against Bode, saying his attitude was still more perpetrator-oriented than victim-oriented.

It accused Bode of declaring a case of sexualized violence against a minor as a "relationship" as recently as last year.

The resignation makes the 72-year-old the first German bishop to actually step down because of the scandal of abuse in the Catholic Church. The pope has so far rejected requests for resignation from other bishops and, in the case of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, a decision is still pending.

rc/kb (dpa, KNA, epd)

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