Until recently, it sounded routine. At their meeting in Mainz, the bishops wanted to elect their conference chairman on a rotational basis. Everything pointed to a re-election of Cardinal Marx. But then everything changed.
Hardly anyone had expected this announcement: neither the staff in the secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference in Bonn nor the 70 or so bishops and auxiliary bishops who had gathered from the 2. up to the age of 5. The bishops will meet in Mainz in March for their spring plenary session.
In a letter, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich informed his confreres that he would not stand again in the regular election for the presidency of the conference. "I think it should be the younger generation's turn to speak out. And perhaps it is also good if there is more frequent change in this task," said the 66-year-old, explaining his move.
Successor sought for Cardinal Marx
A generational and stylistic change may be in store for the union of bishops. The search is on for a successor to Marx, who at times shirt-sleeved, at times diplomatic, but always blessed with good contacts to the Pope, represented the interests and concerns of his confreres in public. Marx's deputy, Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, has also indicated that he is not available to succeed Marx as head of the conference. The reasons for the announced withdrawal of the cardinal apply even more to himself, according to the 69-year-old Bode.
Even the Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki already waved off. And so it seems completely open who on 3. March will appear before the press as successor to Marx and Bode. The interest of the media in the meeting in Mainz is great. Which is also related to the other topics that are negotiated in the historic Erbacher Hof.
Open question of compensation payments
This is how the bishops want to deal with the further processing of sexual abuse. Among other things, this probably hides the question of compensation payments, which has been open for a long time.
A working group had proposed two models for this: a lump sum of about 300.000 euros per victim or a graduated procedure in which, depending on the severity of the case, between 40.000 and 400.000 euros could be paid. Both models are considered disproportionate, especially in the less wealthy dioceses.
Most recently, however, Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann, abuse commissioner of the bishops' conference, expressed confidence that there would be clarity on the future course "in the next few months".
The abuse scandal with its consequences was an important trigger for the Synodal Way to the Future of Church Life in Germany. Bishops and laity want to regain lost trust with the two-year initiative.
View on Synodal Way and Ecumenical Church Congress
Three weeks ago the first synodal assembly was held in Frankfurt. Now the bishops want to take stock of the start, which was sensational in places. There is likely to be a debate behind closed doors between a more conservative minority around Cardinal Woelki and the proponents of the Synodal Way.
The bishops also look to Frankfurt, 40 kilometers away, for information on the planning status of the Ecumenical Kirchentag. Next year, the major event organized by the Catholic and Protestant churches is to take place in the city on the Main River. Another focus of the Assembly is an analysis of the Pope's letter on the Amazon Synod. In his recent paper, Francis rejected ordained ministry for women for now and did not address the relaxation on priestly celibacy suggested by the World Synod of Bishops.
The pope put a damper on hopes for reform – at the same time, many observers praised the church leader's commitment to the environment and human rights in South America.
Between these two poles, the German bishops have so far received. In addition to the Amazon region, another venue outside Europe is on the agenda of the plenary assembly: as a guest, Pope's ambassador Cardinal Mario Zenari wants to inform about the situation of Christians in Syria. Church reforms not the ie in country drained by civil war.
But about the question of the survival of Syrian Christians threatened by violence and lack of prospects.