Status: 10.12.2023, 15:51 PM
A beam of light falls on a cross in a church. © Nicolas Armer/dpa/Symbolbild
For the first time since 1891, the new archbishop of Paderborn does not come from the region: a Palatine will be the new chief pastor of the Catholics in the diocese. How will he position himself on the path of reform of the Church?
Paderborn - The former Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of Mainz will be the new Archbishop in Paderborn. Not only for 56-year-old Udo Markus Bentz - born in Rülzheim in the Palatinate - the step from Mainz to North Rhine-Westphalia is a turning point. For the Archdiocese of Paderborn, the personnel is unusual, because the last time someone became bishop there was in 1891 who did not come from the region.
The people in the packed Paderborn Cathedral received the appointment on Saturday at the presentation of Bentz with long-lasting applause. At noon, the bells rang throughout the archdiocese. In the cathedral, Bentz addressed the first words to the Catholics. He was visibly nervous. He had already preached at the same place in 2018 - at the cathedral consecration jubilee he represented the Bishop of Mainz at the time.
In his welcoming address on Saturday, Bentz directly addressed what he considered to be important points. On the subject of abuse, he spoke of the dark side of the Church. In Paderborn, a study on the subject has not yet been published. "I still don't know enough about the approach here," Bentz said at a press conference.
But he promised to face up to the talks with those affected. "This is about dealing with wards. Especially the weak must be able to live safely and well in the Church," he said.
The Münster canon lawyer and professor Thomas Schüller knows the new archbishop well. "With Udo Markus Bentz, Paderborn is getting a moderately conservative archbishop. He is highly educated. He is not a revolutionary on the synodal path, but he is also not an obstructionist," Schüller said in the afternoon.
The synodal path is a reform process initiated by German Catholics in 2019 as a consequence of the abuse scandal. Synodality means deliberating and deciding together.
The Archdiocese of Paderborn has around 1.4 million believers and is one of only seven archdioceses in Germany. The Archbishop of Paderborn thus occupies one of the central leadership positions in the Catholic Church in Germany.
Geographically, the archdiocese in North Rhine-Westphalia stretches from Minden in the north to Siegen in the south and from Herne in the west to Höxter in the east. In addition to the territories in Westphalia, parts of the district of Waldeck-Frankenberg (Hesse) and the town of Bad Pyrmont (Lower Saxony) belong to the Archdiocese of Paderborn.
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The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Bätzing, praised Bentz's commitment to the reform path so far. He wanted to take the opportunity to "sincerely thank Bentz for all his commitment to the synodal path," Bätzing was quoted as saying in a statement from the bishops' conference.
Bentz was diplomatic. In the Pope's words on the synodal path, he sees a lot of orientation. "There are different perspectives on how synodality can be lived. We can learn a lot from the different local Churches in the world," said the new Archbishop.
Here it is important that the different groups listen to each other. "The synodal dynamics in Germany are understood as part of the entire journey. No one can say I'm on the right track." The synodal path, for example, is about the involvement of women and laity as well as the interests of homosexuals.
Bentz will succeed the long-standing Archbishop of Paderborn, Hans-Josef Becker. He retired in October last year for reasons of age. The introduction of Bentz is scheduled to take place on March 10, 2024 at Paderborn Cathedral.
After his introduction, Bentz asked for time - he came from another diocese with its own imprint. The call from Paderborn had reached him about eight days ago. "This is a big turning point in your life. I can only imagine what a step this is when you have been rooted in Mainz for 35 years," said Michael Bredeck, who had led the archdiocese on an interim basis for more than a year after Becker's resignation.
Reactions to Bentz's appointment over the weekend were overwhelmingly positive. The Evangelical Church of Westphalia sent a letter of congratulations to the new archbishop. "I am completely confident that you, as a native of Mainz, will be welcomed openly in your new Westphalian environment and will be well received," writes the Theological Vice President of the Regional Church, Ulf Schlüter. "We are very much looking forward to talking and meeting you." Also from the neighboring diocese of Münster came a letter of congratulations from Bishop Felix Genn.
The Catholic reform group "We are Church" called on the newly appointed archbishops in Bamberg and Paderborn to commit themselves unreservedly to the reform process of the synodal path in Germany and Rome. "Otherwise, the Roman Catholic Church and the episcopate will lose even more authority in the face of the abuse and cover-up scandals that have still not really been dealt with," "We are Church" said in a statement. Dpa