“The office requires a certain humility”

Hans Langendorfer in September 2020 © Julia Steinbrecht (KNA)

As secretary of the German Bishops' Conference, he has experienced and worked with four presidents since 1996. Before the spring plenary assembly, Father Hans Langendorfer looks back on his many years in office.

When the Catholic bishops meet digitally next week for their spring plenary assembly, one will be sorely missed: the DBK's longtime secretary is no longer on board. For almost 25 years, the most diverse concerns of the bishops were in the best hands with Father Hans Langendorfer. He retired at the beginning of this year. In the great our site- Interview the Jesuit looks back self-critically and gives as a pilot of many years again important ecclesiastical position statements. The interview in full length can be found here.

Here we have compiled the key sentences for you:

Manager or servant of God?

The Secretariat of the Bishops' Conference is not a seminary, but an administrative office. But also a well Christian and Catholic house. Catholics who want to live their faith work well together here. It was always important to me to be there for the staff at all times, also as a pastor.

Does it help to be a Jesuit?

For a secretary of a bishops' conference, it also has advantages not to be subordinate in jurisdiction to one of the bishops for whom one works. This creates a certain freedom. My superior is my provincial and in this way I have always maintained a certain freedom.

String-puller in the background?

Yes, the office demands a certain humility. It was always clear to me: You're not number one here, and you won't make it into the newspapers. You are called a string puller. But the number one is someone else and that's also good. This does not mean, however, that one does not also ame co-responsibility in a very binding sense for the fate of the cohesion of the bishops' conference.

About his boss Karl Cardinal Lehmann

A really exciting time in my life. I took on the task at the age of mid-40s, still relatively young. At that time he was the old-style liberal professor. Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman with tremendous creative knowledge and a willingness to think through and also appropriate everything.

About his boss Archbishop Robert Zollitsch

One of those liberal southern Germans and Badeners who was very strongly influenced by his diocese. He is a displaced person and it was important for him to have a home. We worked together well and in a spirit of trust – and that in difficult times. In coming to terms with the sexual abuse, he gave the necessary orientation.

About his boss Reinhard Cardinal Marx

The stage with Cardinal Marx was a very important new stage for me. We are the same age, we knew each other forever. As peers you speak the same language. He, the East Westphalian from Munich with strong gestures, strong words and strong deeds. It was also a lot of fun and a really important part of my entire ministry.

About his boss Bishop Georg Batzing

Bishop Batzing is younger than I am, and you can see the process of change as a result of a long period in office. I believe that it has done the German Bishops' Conference good and that it was well advised to elect him as chairman. Bishop Batzing then courageously marched off and we experience him as committed.

Abuse – the open wound

The most burdensome challenge in all those years was, of course, coming to terms with the sexual abuse. A lot of hard work that not just me, but others have done. Reaching out to the victims, the necessary repentance and gestures of recognition. Much of this has not played a big role in public perception. But Bishop Ackermann has achieved infinite things here.

27 dioceses that are rarely of one mind

In the structure of the Bishops' Conference, I think there is a need for reform with regard to unanimity. To this day, unanimity is required in budgetary matters. In the past, this was often an instrument of gagging, where bishops said either you do it this way or I vote against it. I imagine that it would be better to work with a double majority on various ies, as in the EU, or to find other mechanisms to get out of these blockades.

Challenges for the Church

We have a dramatic emigration from the church, and this has a lot to do with the abuse. But she has also been involved with quite different processes – z.B. of secularization: If the parents' children have already failed to find their way into the faith, then their children will certainly fail to find their way into it. How do we find right ways of communicating, right ways of speaking, of believing, to offer people the joy of Christianity, the breadth of Christianity?

Bringing women forward

On the one hand, a process of consciousness-raising has taken place here in the bishops' conference, which is quite extraordinary. One expression of this is the participation of women in many leading positions in the church. Then we have the loud voices of the women's associations and of Maria 2.0. But they help us to bring the topic forward. Half of humanity is women. I would like us to perhaps also give impulses to the universal church.

Professionalism is the order of the day

The secretariat is professionally set up. I would like to say this in all clarity. A great deal has also changed in the dioceses. The old finance directors were prelates – essentially no more. More and more dioceses are making a division between the vicar general, who somehow has ultimate authority, and an administrative director – whatever that is called then. There is a process of professionalization underway. But it must always be clear, even in an episcopal administration, that although it is a matter of professional administrative work, it is always in the context of a religious mission.

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Christina Cherry
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