“Long breath” should help beate gilles

Beate Gilles © Sascha Steinbach (epa pool)

For the first time, the German bishops have elected a woman to head the Secretariat of the Bishops' Conference: Beate Gilles. Who is the woman who now holds one of the most visible offices in the Catholic Church?

Beate Gilles' staying power as a marathon runner will probably come in handy in her new office: The 50-year-old will be the. July the first General Secretary of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference.

At the same time, it takes over the management of the Association of German Dioceses (VDD) with an annual budget of around 120 million euros. The bishops elected her on Tuesday to succeed Father Hans Langendorfer. Gilles is the first woman and non-cleric at the head of the secretariat.

"It's a big step to fill this position differently," she said after the announcement at the bishops' spring digital plenary session. According to reports, she was elected in the third round of voting. She spoke of a challenging, "but also exciting phase for the Catholic Church in Germany".

Respect and experience must be earned

Gilles cannot yet interpret her role as secretary general as confidently as her predecessor, who for a quarter of a century held many a string in his hand. Respect and experience must be earned. But she already knows how the Catholic Church in Germany, which is comparatively well endowed with money, personnel and structures, "ticks".

From 2000 to 2010, she was the head and managing director of the Katholisches Bildungswerk Stuttgart (Catholic Education Center Stuttgart). In 2010, she moved to the Diocese of Limburg as the department head for children, youth and family – at that time still under Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who then had to vacate his post in 2014 after the furor over the expensive bishop's residence.

With his successor and current chairman of the Bishops' Conference, Georg Batzing, Gilles seems to be a well-rehearsed team. There is a photo on the Internet showing her and Limburg's Vicar General Wolfgang Rosch sitting on a tandem – with Gilles on the handlebars. The image is meant to underscore the commitment to women in leadership positions in the diocese.

Batzing called her election a strong sign "that the bishops are living up to their commitment to promote women in leadership positions". Gilles is considered a profound theologian, strongly networked in the structures of the church and equipped with the best organizational skills.

Diplomatic skills needed

Even though the exhibition, which opened on 2. Gilles, who was born in Huckeswagen in the Bergisches Land region in May 1970, knows the southwest of the republic well, she still has to explore various dioceses and win them over for herself. Her mediating, unpretentious manner will help her in this endeavor. Diplomatic skills will also help her in the ongoing savings discussion in the VDD, which she says she knows well and wants to continue actively.

Gilles studied Catholic religious education and German at the University of Bonn from 1989 to 1995. Afterwards, she worked there academically until 1999 as a member of staff at the Seminar for Liturgical Studies. In 2000, she received her doctorate with a thesis on church service broadcasts in the media. By this time, Gilles was already a freelance speaker in theological and religious and religious adult education and a freelancer for the Catholic television work of the ZDF (Second German Television).

In the diocese of Limburg, Gilles headed a highly regarded project group on behalf of Batzing, which dealt, among other things, with the question of the blessing of same-sex couples. By her own admission, she finds it good that such topics can be discussed much more openly today than they were a few years ago.

Gilles has been the representative of the Hessian dioceses on the Broadcasting Council of Hessischer Rundfunk for a few months now. She has also been the honorary federal chairwoman of IN VIA Germany, the Catholic association for social work with girls and women, since 2020, and was already its deputy chairwoman from 2012 to 2019.

The 50-year-old – unmarried and without children – is described by companions as a believer with a tangible spiritual dimension – and as a self-confident woman. About the often vociferous reform initiative Mary 2.0 she says that the women engaged there are in the center of the church – and with this paraphrase she sounds hardly different from many bishops. With the Synodal Way, a way has been found to enter into conversation with one another, "which for many years had not been possible at all". And: The church should not lose sight of the socio-political ies in the inner-church debate.

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