The German Bishops have chosen as their new President a reformer in favour of optional celibacy and more power for women.
– The “younger generation” favoured by outgoing President Cardinal Marx
Bishop of Limburg Georg Bätzing, 59, today rose to the helm of the German Episcopal Conference after being consecrated bishop only three and a half years ago.
Bätzing’s fellow bishops elected him as their head the morning of this March 3 to replace Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, 66, who announced by letter last February 11 that after a mandate of six years as German Bishops’ head he would not be seeking re-election.
At that time, Marx said he had held the position “with pleasure”, but that everything had “its moment”.
The cardinal explained that the time had come to make important decisions, and that it was now “the turn of the younger generation”.
The German Church held its first “synodal path” assembly a month ago, a forum in which its 230 delegates are analysing issues such as the role of women in the Church, compulsory clerical celibacy, the exercise of power and authority in Catholicism and Catholic sexual morality, among other questions of reform.
Bätzing, who will serve as German Bishops’ President for the next six years, was born on April 13, 1961 in Kirchen, in the diocese of Trier in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. He was ordained a priest on July 18, 1987, and consecrated bishop of Limburg on September 18, 2016.
In the German Bishops’ Conference, Bätzing has so far served as president of the Sub-Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and was a member of the Commission for the Universal Church.
– The fight against “racism and agitation”, a priority of the new President
In his farewell, Cardinal Marx described as “very disturbing” the xenophobic attacks committed in recent times by people of far-right ideology in Hanau and Volkmarsen.
For his part, Bätzing dedicated his first words as the new German Bishops’ President at an introductory press conference to set as a priority of his mandate the doubling-down of the opposition of the Church to xenophobia.
“We must be so strong, as we have so far always been, in standing up against racism and agitation in our country”, said the new head of the German Bishops, insising “we must do this jointly together with all constructive forces”.
Another priority the Limburg bishop set for his new term was a solution to the clerical sex abuse scandal, as part of which he said he hoped to achieve very soon a just and fair compensation mechanism for abuse survivors.
– A reformer on celibacy, women, the synodal path process and same-sex relationships
As for his reformist sympathies, German Catholic media recalled after Bätzing’s election today a quote of the bishop’s to the effect that “I believe it does not hurt the Church when priests are free to choose whether they wish to live in a marriage or celibate”.
Bätzing has also insisted that the Church must “take seriously that the exclusion of women from ordained offices is regarded as fundamentally unjust and inappropriate in the surrounding society where, for a long time now, women and men have been accorded equal rights”.
The Limburg bishop has also been a strong defender of the synodal path reform process, in which he is serving as chairman of the forum devoted to the issue of sexual morality and in which context he has argued that the Church needs to draw on insights from both theology and the human sciences to arrive “at a new evaluation of same-sex relationships”.
Bätzing has earned a reputation in the German Church for his amicability, relaxed personality and internal calm, and for his stated preference for easy-to-understand theology in favour of stilted “Church-speak”.
Among the other appointments that the German Bishops still have pending in their assembly this week is that of a new secretary general to replace the Jesuit Hans Langendörfer, who is leaving the post after 24 years.