Amid massive criticism of the cover-up of abuse scandals, the German Bishops’ Conference has elected a woman as general secretary for the first time. The theologian Beate Gilles will succeed the clergyman Hans Langendörfer at the beginning of July, the bishops’ conference announced in a broadcast on Tuesday. “This is an important day for the Church in Germany and for the German Bishops’ Conference,” said conference chairman Georg Bätzing in an initial reaction.
“I see this as a strong sign that the bishops are fulfilling their promise to promote women in leadership positions,” emphasized the Limburg bishop. Gilles was previously responsible for children, youth and family in his diocese. “I’m looking forward to the new job,” commented Gilles on the choice. Since this year she has also been the federal chairwoman of IN VIA Germany, the Catholic association for social work for girls and women. In addition, she sits on the broadcasting council of the German state for the Hessian dioceses.
Observers viewed the surprising election as an attempt by the German bishops to venture into an affair to cover up abuse scandals. In this regard, the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, was caught in the crossfire. Bätzing had also accused his colleague of wrongdoing.
At the start of the virtual general assembly of the German bishops, there were protest actions by reform initiatives throughout Germany, which, among other things, demanded access for women to all church offices, an end to compulsory celibacy and double standards on the question of sexuality.
The secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference supports the bishops in their work for the Catholic Church in Germany. The tasks of the Bonn-based secretariat range from coordinating international and ecumenical cooperation to cross-diocesan observations and accompanying socio-political issues. The secretary is also the managing director of the Association of Dioceses of Germany (VDD).
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