The German Catholic Bishops’ Conference (DBK) elected a woman for the first time as the main conference administrator on Tuesday, in a move to modernize the
Theologian Beate Gilles has been appointed secretary general of the Bonn-based conference. After her election to the post, the 50-year-old noted that her skills as a runner were also well suited to her new role.
“I am an endurance athlete,” said Gilles. “This means I know that a marathon isn’t decided on 40 kilometers, but more on 1,000 kilometers in training – that’s my distance.”
Gilles takes on this role as German bishops face deep concern among 22 million German Catholics as well as demands for more leadership roles for women.
Facing internal church troubles: Archbishop of Cologne Rainer Maria Woelki
“ Strong signal ” for modernization
At Tuesday’s virtual bishops ‘conference meeting, DBK president Georg Bätzing described Gilles’ election as a “strong signal that the bishops are fulfilling their promise to advance women in leadership positions.” .
Gilles, who takes over as secretary general on July 1, will not only be the first woman to hold the first post of episcopal conference, but also the first lay person.
The high-level role of the Secretary General is responsible for the implementation of decisions made by the bishops.
She currently heads a department for youth, family and childcare in the Diocese of Limburg in Batzing.
The ‘courageous’ coordinating bishops
From Stuttgart, where Gilles previously ran a Catholic educational entity for a decade, his colleagues wished him endurance.
“To coordinate 27 consecrated men, each of whom is the greatest of his small kingdom, and to do it at this time: it is courageous, not to say daring,” said Christian Hermes, superintendent of the city of Stuttgart.
Gilles, who succeeds Father Hans Langendörfer who was DKB General Secretary for 24 years, admitted that she appreciated her unprecedented appointment in predominantly male circles.
“It is a sign within the Catholic Church, I am very aware of it,” said Gilles.
Protest movement by Maria 2.0
Simultaneously, in front of Cologne Cathedral, groups representing victims of sexual abuse and the reformist women’s movement Maria 2.0 staged protests.
Gilles, single and childless, who is also a Catholic representative in the public audiovisual sector, will also take over the management of the VDD federation of German dioceses from July, with an annual budget of around 120 million euros (146 million euros). dollars).
The VDD, overseen by the president of the Bätzing Bishops’ Conference, jointly manages the business and employment activities of the 27 German Catholic dioceses under the special municipal status granted by German law.
Church in Crisis
The German Catholic Church is struggling with falling membership rates.
In 2019, more than 272,000 Catholics in Germany left the church. In Cologne last week, a computer in a secular city administrative court used to formalize church exits became overloaded, court officials revealed.
As the scale of sexual abuse and cover-ups within the church continues to surface, German bishops have come under fire for their handling of cases.
Cologne Archbishop Reiner Maria Woelki last year blocked a report on decades of alleged sexual abuse by clerics, turning to a Cologne lawyer whose Woekli report promised to go public on March 18.
He claimed that the previous report, written by lawyers in Munich, was flawed.
The Archbishop’s handling of the lingering scandal and perceived cover-up, involving decades-long affairs in the largest German-speaking diocese of 2 million people, had attracted widespread media coverage.
In the past, however, Woelki has organized public humanitarian stands, for example on refugees in a boat.
ipj / rs (KNA, TBEN)