Coordinate – probe – mediate

Coordinate - probe - mediate

Father Hans Langendorfer © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

In the Bonn secretariat of the bishops' conference, he is known simply as "The Father". For 20 years, Jesuit Hans Langendorfer has sat at a key position in the Catholic Church. Rhinelander also has a thing for Berlin.

He has not one boss, but many. He sees himself as a service provider to the more than 60 Catholic bishops and auxiliary bishops, and thus as someone who must coordinate, probe, balance and mediate. On Friday, Jesuit Hans Langendorfer celebrates 20 years of service as head of the Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference in Bonn.

From Lehmann to Marx

"In this job, you can't rely on marching through," is how the clergyman, who was born in Bonn in 1951, describes his understanding of his office. He has served under three conference presidents so far: hired by Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch and Cardinal Reinhard Marx also relied and continue to rely on his experience.

However, false humility is far from the tall, somewhat lanky-looking Langendorfer's mind: He knows that he helps to determine the direction and that he is expected to propose solutions when there is a fire somewhere in the church in Germany. And not just since the Limburg financial scandal showed that problems in one diocese have repercussions for the entire church.

Therefore, a strong central office would actually be necessary. Opposed to this is canon law and the independence of dioceses, charities and religious orders enshrined in it. The plurality in the thinking of the bishops also stands against it. When the church's labor laws were liberalized last year and a different approach to divorced and remarried church employees was to be adopted, countless rounds of negotiations were necessary until all the bishops were on board.

Sometimes a target of right-wing Catholic circles

Because he always promotes the "connectivity" of church and society, Langendorfer is sometimes also a target of right-wing Catholic circles, which accuse him of being too liberal or lacking a willingness to fight. "The salt of the functionary church has become stale," is sometimes said with regard to the Jesuit.

The office of secretary of the bishops' conference is one of the most difficult in the Catholic Church in Germany. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" therefore once described him as a "spider in a web often stretched to breaking point". "Father," as he is called in the secretariat, is a survivor.

The range of topics that the Jesuit works on in the service of the bishops is wide: from the new missal to the painful separation from the Weltbild publishing house. As secretary he also has other offices, for example in the ZDF television council. Langendorfer faces headwinds – at least outwardly – with composure and a lot of Rhenish humor. He finds support in his family and in his circle of friends and in the Jesuit order – once a year he also retreats here for a retreat.

Langendorfer seems to have inherited his political skills from his grandfather, who as Bonn's chief city director in the post-war period helped to make Bonn the federal capital, and the ability to make clear diagnoses from his father, a doctor.

Stronger presence in Berlin sought

He looks back on the major ies of recent years with some self-confidence: the fact that the church quickly developed an action plan after the abuse scandal was uncovered in spring 2010, ranging from better cooperation with the judiciary to compensation for victims and stronger prevention, is also thanks to him. The same goes for the fact that in the run-up to the World Synod on the Family, the bishops reported the unvarnished results of a survey to Rome, according to which there is a huge gap between church teachings on sexuality and the family and the everyday lives of Catholics.

Very close to the heart of the Rhinelander, who gained political experience as a research assistant in the Federal Chancellery under Helmut Kohl, is a stronger presence in Berlin. He announced that the church wants to "become more present in culture and science, in social dialogue and in the field of international relations. A working group of the bishops is examining the possibility of founding a scientific college in the capital city. Even a "foreign policy think tank" is conceivable according to the ideas of some of the bishops, according to Langendorfer.

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