History of the German Bishops’ Conference

In 1848 the German Bishops first held a conference in Würzburg. In 1867 the Fulda Bishops’ Conference came into being and became a permanent institution, but only more than a century later it became canonically established by the Second Vatican Council.

The debates of the 19th century concerning church policy, but also the new opportunities that arose from democratic freedom led to joint actions in the middle of that century of the laity (first „Katholikentag“ in 1848) and the bishops. Their joint consultations complete their former regional meetings.

Development of the Bishops’ Conference in Germany:

1848
First Conference of German Bishops in Würzburg

1867
First Conference of Bishops in Fulda "at the tomb of St Boniface" and institutionalization of the Conference

The Conference regards itself as a free union with its resolutions not being legally binding. Section 1 of the rules establishes: "The Bishops’ Conferences do not intend to represent the German Episcopate as a whole, to replace Church synods or to exert legislative power..."

1873
The Fulda Conferences are held without the participation of the Bavarian bishops who meet in Freising for their own consultations. Under the pressure of the political situation they join the Fulda Bishops’ Conference again in 1933.

1965
Canonical recognition and guidelines for the establishment of national Bishops’ Conferences by the Second Vatican Council (Decree "Christus Dominus" nos. 37 to 38).

1966
German Bishops’ Conference
According to the canonical instructions of the Second Vatican Council the Fulda Bishops’ Conference sets up new statutes and is called „German Bishops’ Conference“ from then on.

In addition to the diocesan bishops, now auxiliary bishops and apostolic and canonical visitors are also members of the Bishops’ Conference.

The annual autumn plenary assembly always takes place in Fulda. The spring plenary assembly is held at different places.

1976
Berlin Conference of Bishops

After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the continuation of the division of Germany, the bishops from the German Democratic Republic were inhibited by the GDR authorities from participating in the plenary assemblies of the German Bishops’ Conference. In order to meet the pastoral needs, the bishops of the GDR held their own assemblies – at first called “Berlin conference of ordinaries” – and in 1976 established the “Berlin Conference of Bishops”. They expressly emphasized that the establishment of this conference must not be understood as a recognition of the division of Germany.

1990
Union of both conferences by decree of the Holy See. There is only one “German Bishops’ Conference”.

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