Bishop Georg Batzing © Andreas Arnold
The election of Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing as president of the German Bishops' Conference has triggered numerous positive reactions. Congratulations came from politics, dioceses and the Protestant Church, among others.
The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, said in Bonn that he had come to know Batzing as a clever and thoughtful partner. In the diocese of Limburg, which has been marked by serious upheavals, he has achieved a high reputation in a short time.
"Your election is also an encouraging sign for us that the very overwhelming majority of bishops is willing to continue the synodal path consistently and successfully to regain lost trust," Sternberg said in a congratulatory letter.
"A clever clergyman, turned toward the people"
Congratulations also came from politics. This is how German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier congratulated Bishop Georg Batzing on his election to head the German Bishops' Conference. "With your election to this important position, after holding important offices in the field of interreligious dialogue and the universal church, you are now taking on a central task and great responsibility at the head of the Catholic Church in Germany," the head of state wrote. "They create important links between church, state and society."
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has praised the new chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Batzing, for his "openness and willingness to talk". Both will certainly also "render him valuable services" in his new office and support him "in fulfilling the coming tasks with foresight and in continuing the reform process within the Catholic Church," Merkel wrote on Wednesday. The confidence expressed by the election testifies to "high recognition and esteem". She wished him "a happy hand and God's blessing" and looked forward to the dialogue.
CDU chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wished Batzing "much strength and God's blessing" on Twitter. "Great tasks lie ahead of you. We are looking forward to a good cooperation," said Kramp-Karrenbauer. Hermann Grohe (CDU), the Union's church commissioner, said that strong churches are important for society. Therefore, he wished Batzing God's blessing for the new task.
The chairwoman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Hessian state parliament and the SPD in Hesse, Nancy Faeser, said that in Batzing the bishops had elected a "modern, open-minded man" as their chairman.
Bishop Batzing is "a clever clergyman who is turned toward people" and who has already had a positive influence on the Catholic Church of the present day. Faeser said that she was sure that the new chairman "will steer his church with care, but also with great courage, through the reform discussion that began with the Synodal Way.".
"Always remained modest as a person"
Munster's Bishop Felix Genn was "very satisfied" with Batzing's election. Georg Batzing, he said, is someone who can integrate, inspire and moderate. "These skills are particularly in demand at the moment, for example with regard to the Synodal Way, but also if we as a church want to present a more credible image again," Genn emphasized. Batzing brings a well-founded theological expertise and has always remained modest as a person.
"I wish him that he will keep his inner calm in the face of all the challenges that the Catholic Church in our country is currently facing and that he will also not let himself be driven by the many expectations that are now being placed on him," Genn wrote in a statement.
"God's blessing and a happy hand"
Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki wished Batzing "God's blessing and a happy hand" on Twitter. Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck shared congratulations from his Essen diocese on Facebook.
Hildesheim Bishop Heiner Wilmer wished Batzing "much skill and foresight in dealing with challenges such as the Synodal Way, which our German Catholic Church has to face now and in the future". Serving at the helm of the bishops' conference entails giving the Catholic Church in Germany a voice and a face and representing it powerfully, Wilmer said.
"Discussion at eye level"
The Catholic Women's Association of Germany also welcomed the election of Batzing. "He is regarded as a modest reformer who, by his own admission, is not fond of 'detached church talk,'" explained federal chairwoman Mechthild Heil. "For him, the women's ie is 'elementary for the future of the Church,' so we are pleased to have an advocate for our concerns in him and to be able to continue the discussion on an equal footing."
The Protestant Church hopes for ecumenical impulses from Batzing. Bedford-Strohm said on Tuesday in Hanover that he had experienced the Limburg bishop "as an ecumenically highly open-minded and humanly very pleasant" interlocutor. "This makes me look forward with great confidence to future ecumenical cooperation," the council president said.
Bedford-Strohm stressed that he was looking forward with particular joy to the "Ecumenical Year 2021". He hoped for new impulses for the ecumenical path of the churches in Germany from the Ecumenical Kirchentag in Frankfurt and impulses for worldwide ecumenism from the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe. As bishop of Limburg, Batzing is one of the hosts of the Ecumenical Church Congress, which is scheduled to take place in May 2021.
"Clear, strong voice of orientation"
Bedford-Strohm thanked the previous conference chairman, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, for "all the trusting cooperation and friendly solidarity to date, which has found expression not least in the shaping of the Reformation anniversary in 2017 as a joint celebration of Christ".
In particular, the ecumenical service "Healing of Memories" in Hildesheim in 2017 and the orientation guide ied by the bishops' conference in 2018 on the question of marriages uniting denominations and joint participation in the Eucharist were milestones in Marx's term of office, said the council president. The cardinal had given Catholics in Germany a clear voice, strong in orientation and audible everywhere. Especially in difficult times this has proven to be beneficial.
"Credible representative and communicator."
The President of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, Manfred Rekowski, also congratulated Batzing. "In your time in Trier and as bishop of Limburg, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland has come to appreciate you as an open, cordial interlocutor," reads a letter Rekowski sent to Batzing on Tuesday. The Catholic Church in Germany has found a "credible representative and communicator in the former vicar general of Trier".
"'Lead together'. The motto of your episcopal ministry is both an encouragement and a mission for you," Rekowski emphasized. "We look forward to good, ecumenical contact in your new position as well."The Limburg diocese shares church areas with the Rhenish Church in Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. "More than ever, in view of people's concerns and the brokenness in our society, we must bear witness together to the Gospel in word and day," the Rhenish president explained.
Congratulations from the Central Council of Jews
The president of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, wished Batzing "mazel and broche – happiness and blessing!". Relations between Jews and Catholics in Germany stand on a firm foundation, he explained. The Orthodox Rabbinical Conference also emphasized that the good and trusting cooperation of recent years should be continued.
ACK chairman praises Batzing's ecumenical commitment
The Association of Christian Churches in Germany (ACK) also congratulated the new president of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, on his election. "With Bishop Batzing, the German bishops have a chairman who cares deeply about ecumenism," said ACK chairman Archpriest Radu Constantin Miron in Frankfurt on Wednesday.
As a deputy ACK board member, Bishop Batzing is closely connected to ecumenism in Germany. In addition, as chairman of the Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic theologians, Batzing knows the scientific state of ecumenism better than anyone else – "with all its opportunities, but also challenges," said Miron.
At the same time, Miron thanked Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the previous chairman of the Bishops' Conference. He said the latter's advocacy for ecumenism in Germany, especially in view of the 2017 Reformation commemoration, has been of great importance to ecumenism. With his "hands-on and at the same time open-hearted manner," Marx had given important impulses to ecumenism in Germany.
Founded in 1948, the ACK currently has 17 churches and communities as members, 8 others have guest status and 5 have observer status. According to its own information, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft represents about 50 million Christians in Germany. The ACK office – the "Ecumenical Central Office" – is based in Frankfurt am Main.
Hope for teamwork and dialogue
The initiative "We are Church" hopes for teamwork and dialogue from Batzing. In view of a decades-long reform backlog, the loss of credibility due to the cover-up of sexualized violence and the persistently high number of people leaving the church, the entire bishops' conference must find a new cooperative and participatory self-image that also includes the Central Committee of German Catholics and the people of the church, the letter said.