by Aldo Maria Valli
February 28, 2020
A 'sign of crisis' in the leadership of the German Church
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Reprinted with permission from Altare Dei, a new journal of Catholic art, music and culture.
There is yet another sign of crisis in the leadership of the German Church. After Cdl. Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops' Conference since March 2014, announced that he will not seek election for another term, now one of the most influential figures in the German Church, Jesuit Fr. Hans Langendörfer, has unexpectedly announced his resignation as head of the secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference.
Just like Cdl. Marx, Fr. Langendörfer, who is 68 years old and the secretary general of the conference since 1996, has declared that he believes "now is a good time to hand my office over to younger hands." And not only that: he added that a layman or laywoman would be able to take over his position, and if this happens it would be the first time in the history of the German Bishops' Conference.
As Edward Pentin writes, as the key man in the workings of the German Bishops' Conference for the last quarter-century, Fr. Langendörfer was one of the most influential protagonists of the majority of the principal decisions of the German hierarchy. Known for his tactical sense and his political ability, he was a leading figure in the "synodal way," which the German Church has begun, centered on the need for "renewal" in a sense that critics say is Protestantization — against the traditional teaching of the Church and causing there to be a risk of schism.
Shortly before the "synodal way" began, Langendörfer reiterated that he considered it "unacceptable" that all of the questions relative to the synod were decided in Rome and were taken without the participation of local churches. Furthermore, he has again declared that there is no real ban on the ordination of women, in opposition to what was taught by Pope Saint John Paul II in Ordinatio Saredotalis.
Because of his role, the German Jesuit had a significant influence on the recent Amazon Synod, which was funded by the German Church thanks to Langendörfer's efforts, with the goal of introducing women deaconesses and married priests. But these two goals seem to not have been attained, since Pope Francis does not speak of them in his exhortation Querida Amazonia.
In 2015 Father Langendörfer promoted controversial changes permitting the German Church to employ divorced and remarried Catholics and those who live in homosexual
Fr. Langendörfer exercised a particular control over the online news agency.
In addition to his role a secretary general of the bishops' conference, the Jesuit was also head of the Association of German Dioceses (VDD), a public entity founded in 1968 that acts as the civil arm of the German Bishops' Conference and has a notable influence on the law and economy of the dioceses.
The VDD, with its head Fr. Langendörfer, found itself at the center of a scandal in 2011, after revelations that it owned the Verlagsgruppe Weltbild GmbH, the biggest bookseller in Germany after Amazon, which was accused of publishing pornographic material and investing in the pornography industry. At the time, Father Langendörfer, who was also a board member of the Weltbild group, survived the scandal after the staff of VDD expressed their full faith in him, but the president of VDD, Klaus Donaubauer, was forced to resign.
Langendörfer worked as secretary of the German Bishops' Conference alongside its presidents Karl Lehmann (until 2008), Robert Zollitsch (2008–2014) and Reinhard Marx (2014–2020). Previously he was a researcher at the German Federal Chancery at the time of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and also head of the Jesuit office in Bonn.
In the years of his service as secretary, the German Jesuit worked in close contact with the Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German Bishops' Conference, and together, writes Pentin, "they have run the media in the Church in Germany in a 'very subtle and political way, hidden behind the scenes,'" according to a source close to the Church in Germany. According to the source, Fr. Langendörfer exercised a particular control over the online news agency of the German bishops, Katholisch.de.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino @pellegrino2020
Originally published at Altare Dei, a new journal of Catholic art, music, and culture.