“The cautious reformer”

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode © Lars Berg (KNA)

25 years ago Franz-Josef Bode became Bishop of Osnabruck. A new biography of Germany's longest-serving diocesan bishop has now been published.

The 26th anniversary of the inauguration of Franz-Josef Bode as Bishop of Osnabruck. November for the 25. Mal. On this occasion, a biography entitled "The Cautious Reformer" has been published by the Paderborn publishing house Bonifatius. The author is journalist and historian Christof Haverkamp, formerly editor of the "Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung" and editor-in-chief of the Munster diocesan newspaper "Kirche+Leben".

On some 200 pages, it traces the life and career of Germany's now longest-serving diocesan bishop and deputy president of the German Bishops' Conference.

Influenced by home and origin

Haverkamp writes that Bode's work as a priest and bishop can hardly be understood without taking into account his homeland and origins. He therefore begins with the birth of Bode in Paderborn and his growing up in nearby Etteln as the "nestling" in the merchant family of Karoline and Franz Bode. He was "brought up by five women", he quotes Bode.

Boy becomes altar boy, carol singer, helps in church and plays organ. Bode graduates from high school, studies Catholic theology in Paderborn and later in Regensburg under Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, among others. On 13. December 1975, at the age of 24, he receives priestly ordination in Paderborn Cathedral by Archbishop Johannes Joachim Degenhardt, "six years to the day after Jose Mario Bergoglio, later Pope Francis," the book says.

Bishop's consecration in 1991

At the age of 26, Bode already heads a congregation on a provisional basis. Already in the following year he changes as a prefect to the seminary and makes his doctorate in 1986 with the Bonn dogmatist Wilhelm Breuning. "This is what Joseph Ratzinger recommends to him," notes Haverkamp, who had long conversations with Bode beforehand.

The clergyman remains a parish priest for five years, then in 1991 he is consecrated bishop. He served as auxiliary bishop in Paderborn for three years before Pope John Paul II appointed him to the post. appointed bishop of Osnabruck in 1995. The 44-year-old is now the youngest diocesan bishop in Germany

Catholic Day and ecumenism

Bode's years as a "youth bishop" and the first attempts of the "cautious reformer" to bring church norms on sexuality more in line with the everyday reality of young people are described. The book devotes an entire chapter to the 2008 Catholic Day in Osnabruck, as well as to ecumenism.

The cases of abuse that came to light in 2010 also take up a lot of space: "Time and again, Bode speaks of shock when he thinks of the cases of sexual abuse by priests."Sometimes the shock could also be heard in his faltering voice. On 28. November 2010, the bishop makes a public confession of guilt in Osnabruck Cathedral. He lies flat on the stone floor – a sign of humility.

"I am simply the bishop"

The view of Bode from the outside, for example from celebrities from politics and the church, and his alleged role as a favorite in various bishop appointments in the past are described by the author with humor. He quoted Bode's response to the question of what the office does to a person: "I no longer have to make it clear to myself that I have to exercise the office of bishop – I am simply the bishop."

The book also shows Bode's efforts to orient the diocese of Osnabruck toward the future. In 2017, he entrusted lay people with parish leadership for the first time – and interpreted church law generously in the process.

Basic optimism and the desire for harmony

A big break 2018 means for the clergyman. Several back operations put him almost completely out of action. But he recovered. Companions have noted that the illness has made him freer, they say. This particularly concerns Bode's position in the reform debate, the synodal way, especially in the question of women. He remains true to his previous line of dealing with what is already possible under church law in order to put women in a better position. At the same time, he did not want to lose sight of the question of ordained ministries for women, such as the diaconate.

The conclusion of the book: "Almost always loyal to the Magisterium, but determined to make changes within the church," Bode used his room for maneuver. In addition to humor, his personality includes a basic optimism – and the desire for harmony.

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