Catholic bishops usually have a relaxed relationship with the word "I". Unless it's about responsibility for the sexual abuse scandal. Then they like to seek their salvation in the collective: "We as a church" have made mistakes, it is then said, or one refers to the "systemic causes", for which one can of course somehow do something as a high-ranking churchman - in other words, speaking very abstractly and generally .
Therefore, Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode deserves respect for what he said on Saturday to justify his spectacular resignation. “I” or “myself” occurs more than once in it. "I misjudged cases, often acted hesitantly and sometimes made wrong decisions," says Bode. This clarity is welcome to set the style for further processing. Anyway.
But everything else about the Bode case can only serve as a deterrent example, if at all. She made it clear in a glaring manner how far the Catholic Church still falls short of its own standards, not least when it seems opportune in terms of church politics.
As early as September 2022, an expert report came to the conclusion that Bode had violated his duties several times when dealing with sexual abuse. But he refused to resign at the time, did not even send the results to Rome at first - and could trust that the public pressure on him, as a determined progressive, would never be as great as on a conservative like Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.
In fact, even the reformers of the "Synodal Way", who, according to their own statements, primarily want to fight the causes of the abuse, reacted with disarming mildness to the Osnabrück revelations. And they even put up with the fact that Bode continued to sit on the four-person Synodal Presidium, i.e. the decisive top committee.
Worse still, the timing raises doubts about the voluntary nature of Bode's resignation. In December he defended his refusal to resign by saying that he was only responsible for moral, not legal, errors. As the diocese of Osnabrück told WELT, Bode sent his resignation to the pope just a few weeks later, on January 21.
Has it really only been a new inner insight that has come about in these few weeks? Or did Bode simply fear the consequences of canon law? He would have had reason to do so: at precisely this time, the Advisory Council for Affected Persons of the North German Bishops made an official complaint against him to the responsible Archbishop of Hamburg, which was forwarded directly to Rome.
According to the diocese, Bode had known since the end of February that Pope Francis would accept the resignation request. As a result, it would have been logical and credible to at least let his presidency rest in the “synodal path” for the decisive synodal assembly at the beginning of March. Bode chose the path of secrecy. Once more.
As a thank you, he was able to read an exuberant appreciation of the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference this weekend: "I would have liked to have seen you by our side for more years," wrote Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg - he too is a friend of courageous reform steps. You get the impression that there are double standards here.
In a few days, the Cologne Cardinal Woelki has to testify before a court about what he knew about certain events in his archdiocese and when. At the same time, the Cologne public prosecutor's office suspects him of having told two untruths under oath.
Woelki's critics are right: In view of the completely confused situation in Cologne, it is no longer conceivable that he can still have a beneficial effect there. It is incomprehensible that Pope Francis has left Woelki's resignation request unanswered for more than a year, when he reacted so quickly in the matter of Osnabrück.
But that shouldn't cloud the view that the resignation of a liberal bishop like Franz-Josef Bode is appropriate and delayed. The church will not regain any of its credibility if it decides which scandals it finds worthy of punishment and which ones venial based on the respective political camps and theological orientations. That must be the lesson from the Bode case.