German Bishops Re-Elect Secretary on Interim Basis

Father Langendörfer, who has held the position since 1996, indicated on Wednesday that he had accepted his re-election on a temporary basis, fueling speculation that the bishops had failed to agree on a suitable candidate to replace him.

Pope Francis meets the German Bishops' Conference, 2019.
Pope Francis meets the German Bishops' Conference, 2019. (photo: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN.)

MAINZ, Germany — The secretary of the German bishops’ conference has been reelected to his position, despite announcing last week that he was not a candidate to remain in the role.

Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer was returned in office by the German bishops on Tuesday, during their spring assembly, currently meeting in the city of Mainz. The priest had said he was stepping down to allow a younger person to fill the role.

On Feb. 26, Father Langendörfer announced that “I have come to the conclusion that it is now a good time to hand this position over to younger hands," and suggested that a layperson could fill the role.

Several media outlets in Germany speculated that many in the conference, including Father Langendörfer, hoped that a woman would be elected to fill the position, which plays a key organizational role in the ongoing “synodal process” being conducted by the German bishops’ conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

FatheLangendörfer, who has held the position since 1996, indicated on Wednesday that he had  accepted his reelection on a temporary basis, fueling speculation that the bishops had failed to agree on a suitable candidate to replace him.

A brief press release from the German bishops’ conference, released March 4, said that he would not remain in office for the full term, and was continuing in the role on an interim basis.

“The spring general assembly of the German bishops’ conference today (March 3, 2020) in Mainz has reelected the previous secretary of the bishops' conference, Father Dr. Hans Langendörfer, SJ. re-elected,” the statement said.

“Fr. Langendörfer has announced that he will be performing this task until the end of 2020 at the latest.”

Father Langendörfer’s announcement last week that he would quit the position he has held for nearly 25 years came shortly after the news that the chairman of the conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and Freising, was also stepping down from the conference leadership. In a statement in February, Marx said he hoped to spend more time in his diocese and that it was time for a “younger generation” to assume leadership of the Church in Germany.

Father Langendörfer’s reelection as secretary followed the announcement of the new chairman of the conference.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg was confirmed as the new chairman on Tuesday, replacing Cardinal Marx.

Bishop Bätzing was elected after no candidate received the necessary two-thirds majority during the first two rounds of voting; he was chosen on the third ballot with a simple majority of votes cast and will lead the conference for a six year term.

In his first remarks as chairman, Bätzing expressed his “full support” for the so-called binding synodal process, which formally opened during the first week of Advent, 2019, but held the first meeting of the synodal assembly in January.

Despite several cautionary interventions from Rome, the assembly’s working groups will offer proposed changes to various aspects of Church teaching and discipline, including on women’s ordination, clerical celibacy, and human sexuality.

Father Bätzing himself co-chairs the synodal working group on “Life in Successful Relationships - Love Live in Sexuality and Partnership,” together with Birgit Mock, the ZdK spokeswoman on family policy. The ZdK has called for a total revision of Church teaching on homosexuality and for the blessing of same-sex relationships in churches.