Batzing is different and continues a tradition

Batzing is different and continues a tradition

Bishop Georg Batzing © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Few saw him as a top favorite, now Georg Batzing is president of the German Bishops' Conference. He stands for continuity in the matter and change in style – yet he excels in the art of patient listening.

Once again, the Catholic bishops and auxiliary bishops from the southwest of Germany have made one of their own the president of the Bishops' Conference: after Karl Lehmann and Robert Zollitsch, now Georg Batzing. What they have in common is much more than an irregular meeting of bishops in a relaxed atmosphere, where they talk about God and the world. The last of this kind took place in Speyer at the end of February.

What unites the bishops of southwestern Germany, moreover, is a similar view of the situation and development of the church: whether they come from the always liberal Baden or from the once "deep black" regions of the Eifel or the Westerwald – they have all perceived the gradual change of the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in a very special way.

In a long continuity

It was an inexorable transition from a traditional and priest-centered, nationwide popular church to a still strong but slowly shrinking institution. These bishops have witnessed how the faith of the church has become more and more alienated from the lives of the people, with the cement of folklore – unlike in Bavaria or Westphalia – being far from sufficient to cover this up. At the same time, they were in intensive exchange with strong theological faculties, whose professors are reflecting on what this means for the faith of the Church in the future.

In addition to the bishops of Freiburg, Rottenburg-Stuttgart and Mainz – the so-called Upper Rhine church province – the bishops of Trier, Speyer and Limburg also belong to this circle of "Southwest Germans". They were also decisive in the close election of Reinhard Marx as chairman six years ago, because the people of Trier, among others, favored their former bishop.

Patient listener

So Batzing is in a long continuity, and yet his election represents a change – and not just in tone. After Lehmann, who liked to lecture extensively, and Marx, who was sometimes an impetuous mastermind and strategist, Batzing is characterized above all by the art of patient listening. His bishop's motto "Congrega in unum" ("Lead together") is more than a pious saying.

In the Limburg diocese, which he took over in 2016 two years after the inglorious departure of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, he has overcome deep divisions and healed wounds in a short time. And in the Synodal Way, too, Batzing has distinguished himself as a man of balance, especially in the forum on the subject of sexuality, which was characterized by sharp counter-positions in terms of content.

The assembly had worked out the requirement profile of an "integrating chairman who can communicate authentically" in small group discussions immediately before the election in Mainz – and it was actually already clear at that moment that a man with Batzing's personality would be the favorite. Nevertheless, he probably needed a total of four ballots to be elected with an absolute majority.

No experience with Rome

Batzing's integration skills are undisputed and appreciated even by conservatives. Even toward his conservative and hapless predecessor Tebartz, whom many still regard with scorn and contempt, he has always behaved fairly.

It is not yet clear how Batzing, who has no Roman experience, will act on the difficult communication track between Germany and the Vatican.

Here, as he himself freely admitted, he is dependent on middlemen. And that the Catholic Church in Germany will need good translators and advocates in Rome if it wants to dare further reforms and changes is obvious. Here, former chairman Marx, with his privileged access to the pope, and perhaps also the future secretary of the bishops' conference, could play an important role.

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Christina Cherry
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