Friendly communicator instead of church prince

Friendly communicator instead of church prince

Bishop Georg Batzing © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

As successor to Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, Bishop Georg Batzing did not have it easy. But he established a new style in the diocese of Limburg. Now Batzing is also at the head of the German Bishops' Conference.

When Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing (58) succeeded Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who resigned in 2014, in September 2016, he faced a Herculean task. Limburg bishop's residence had made negative headlines for years. This was preceded by the scandal over the concealment of the cost of Tebartz-van Elst's official residence and residence, which cost around 31 million euros. Many also felt that his entire leadership was authoritarian and questioned the church system.

And at that time it was clear to Batzing: "Going to Limburg as a bishop is currently quite different from going somewhere else." He knew he would have to win back trust first. "The bishop is not a prince and monarch who does not need to listen to anyone," Batzing said. His new, communicative style was well received in the diocese – and apparently beyond: On Tuesday in Mainz, he was elected as the new president of the German Bishops' Conference as successor to Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

Batzing considers dialogue essential

Batzing knew from the start that the headline-grabbing bishop's residence on Cathedral Hill did not suit him. At the same time, it was clear to him: "I can't get my head around this thing."It became his official residence, but he lives in a detached house built in the 1950s that belongs to the diocese.

Batzing considers dialogue essential to leading a diocese: "I can make decisions, but I like to communalize consultation there." He has retained his composure and inner peace. One can hardly imagine Georg Batzing, who formulates his words carefully and in a way that is fit to print, as being quick-tempered. He approaches people with a friendly, engaging demeanor. He is far removed from "church talk", even though he holds a doctorate in theology.

Batzing grew up in Niederfischbach in the Westerwald region of Germany. In 1987 he was ordained a priest in Trier. From 1996 to 2010, as director of the seminary, he was responsible for priestly formation in the diocese of Trier. From November 2012, he then led the diocese of Trier in the area of administration as vicar general. There he also gained experience in getting through conflicts.

As bishop of Limburg, Batzing announced in April 2019 that he wanted an external investigation to "clarify as best as possible" suspected cases of abuse and acts by clerics over the past 70 years. Identified perpetrators and those "responsible for covering up acts" in the diocese should be named and could be held accountable. In November 2019, the diocese itself announced that a sexual abuse case dating back some 30 years had been "covered up". The case was disclosed in detail.

Clearly positioned in reform debate

Batzing has also taken a clear position in the debate on reforms. He can well imagine an abolition of compulsory celibacy. "I don't think it harms the church if priests are free to choose whether they want to live marriage or live celibate," he said in an interview. At the same time, however, it was important to "save" celibacy as a way of life, the bishop added: "Celibacy is worth a lot to me. Because this is how Jesus lived."

Batzing is critical of the current exclusion of women from Catholic ordination offices – i.e. deacon, priest, bishop. He said on New Year's Eve that as a bishop he had to "take seriously that the exclusion of women from ordained ministry is perceived as fundamentally unjust and inappropriate in a social environment that has long placed women and men on an equal footing in terms of their rights.

Batzing massively defended the Catholic reform dialogue of the Synodal Way against critics. He was the host bishop at the first synodal assembly in Frankfurt. Batzing was also elected as one of the chairpersons at the synodal forum "Living in Successful Relationships – Living Love in Sexuality and Partnership.

"The decision to go the synodal route was not a long-prepared 'revolt' by liberal forces with the aim of finally pushing through long-desired changes," the bishop said. The reform-minded forces also did not want a split from the worldwide Catholic Church. To divide, that would be against Batzing's nature. His episcopal motto is "Congrega in unum.". And that means: Bring together.

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