Following the resignation of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) has a new president. Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg was elected for a six-year term at the DBK’s spring plenary meeting in Mainz.
Bishop Bätzing, 58, has only been a bishop since 2016, but has long been regarded as a protégé of Cardinal Marx.
He ran the diocesan seminary in Trier from 1996 to 2010, including Cardinal Marx’s entire term of office as Bishop of Trier.
In 2012 he was appointed vicar general of Trier diocese, and in 2016 was ordained Bishop of Limburg, a large diocese including the major cities of Frankfurt and Wiesbaden. Since the previous incumbent, the “Bishop of Bling” Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, had been forced to resign for his extravagant spending on diocesan buildings, this was a sensitive appointment requiring a safe pair of hands.
Until now, Bishop Bätzing’s main focus within the DBK has been as chairman of its commission on inter-religious dialogue. This was reflected in his first press conference after his election, when he stressed the Church’s duty to oppose racism. “We must stand up as strongly as we have always done to combat racism and hatred in our country,” he said, referring to the recent mass shooting in Hanau which killed 10 people, mostly Muslim immigrants.
Bishop Bätzing’s election also continues the dominance of the German Church’s liberal faction. Referring to the Synodal Path, the recently launched reform consultation, he said: “With the Synodal Path, we are following in the footsteps of what the Pope wants.” He hosted the Synodal Path’s inaugural session in Frankfurt, and is chairing its commission on sexual morality. On the hot topic of priestly celibacy, although he has praised the discipline of celibacy – “this is how Jesus lived” – he has suggested that it should no longer be mandatory.
The conservative minority in the German Church have also noted Bishop Bätzing’s comments that the exclusion of women from priestly ordination appears unjust to the outside world, and his view that the Church must re-evaluate same-sex relationships. These, however, are areas where German liberals have less scope to change the Church’s approach.