Top jobs available: The Catholic Church needs new bishops in Germany. However, the Vatican is taking its time because the selection of future heads could point the way.
The Catholic Church currently has a few top jobs available in Germany. For example in Paderborn, Osnabrück and Bamberg in Franconia. Since November 1, 2022, the Bavarian Archdiocese has been waiting for a new boss following the resignation of Ludwig Schick; in the Archdiocese of Paderborn the position became vacant a month earlier. Since then: silence from the Vatican.
These outstanding personnel decisions are also likely to dictate what direction Rome wants for the German Church: Will the reform forces that women in the priesthood or non-celibate pastors can imagine be strengthened? Or should everything stay as it is?
“Pope Francis and his Curia now have the opportunity to identify candidates who will soon have four vacant bishoprics who are not in line with the Synodal Way, but who rather support Francis’ airy program of a participation church, in which the Pope alone decides in the end “, says canon lawyer Thomas Schüller from Münster. In addition to Bamberg, Paderborn and Osnabrück, the episcopal see of Rottenburg-Stuttgart is also likely to become vacant soon; Gebhard Fürst has submitted a request to resign for reasons of age.
The head of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), Georg Bätzing, is considered to be keen on reform. He was enthusiastically involved in the Synodal Way, which sought to find ways out of the crisis together with laypeople, and accepted some rude rejection from Rome for German reform ideas . But there is also a strong conservative current, represented by Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki and Regensburg Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer.
No longer a coveted position
Finding new bishops has become difficult in Germany because the shortage of skilled workers in the Catholic Church is blatant: according to DBK figures, 124 men were ordained in 2001, and in 2022 there were just 45. This means that the pool of candidates for episcopal offices is also becoming smaller and smaller . After all, canon law expects a sound theological education, at best a doctorate, which limits the choice even more drastically.
However, according to Schüller, a year of sedis vacancy – this is what the period without a bishop is called in church jargon – is not unusual. The process is complex and many people and committees are involved. In the recent past, it has also become more and more common for designated or elected bishops to refuse to accept the office, says Schüller: “Here too, there is often a reason for delays.”
The offices in the church and thus also the office of bishop must be reconsidered, says the reform movement “We are Church”: If synodality is to become the structural principle of the church, fundamental changes must take place, especially in the office of bishop. This year, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is responsible for appointing bishops in the Vatican, was replaced by Robert Francis Prevost: “There are great hopes associated with him.”
What about the Catholic Church?
In any case, the challenges are great for future bishops – regardless of whether they want to take a progressive position or establish themselves as preservers. The number of people leaving the church is extremely high in all dioceses, and many cases of abuse are still waiting to be solved.
And here “We are Church” also sees difficulties for dioceses that officially still have a bishop: “A big problem is dioceses in which incumbent bishops are confronted with accusations that they or their predecessors have not taken action against abuse or at least “We have not pursued the investigation of the abuse decisively enough. In this respect, too, an enormous loss of trust has occurred, which is affecting the ability of these bishops to lead their diocese.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.