Bishop emeritus Joachim Vobbe passed away after a long illness at the age of 70 in his home in Königswinter, Germany, on 26 July 2017. He was Bishop of the Old Catholic Church in Germany from 1995 to 2010.
Joachim Vobbe was born in Bad Honnef on 5 January 1947. After graduating from high school in Bad Münstereifel in 1966, he studied Catholic Theology in Bonn, Münster and Cologne and was ordained as a priest by Cardinal Josef Höffner in Cologne on 14 June 1972.
After serving as a chaplain in Cologne and Düsseldorf, Vobbe joined the Old Catholic diocese in 1977, where he first served as a priest in Blumberg and Offenbach. From 1985 to 1995 he was also dean in Hesse. During that period he was an elected member of the diocesan Synod Standing Committee for seven years.
While he was in Offenbach, Vobbe established close links with the local Romanian Orthodox community. He made several visits to the Orthodox Church of Romania, whose Patriarch Teoctist awarded him with the silver, and later also gold, Patriarchal Cross as a token of gratitude for his dedicated service. In 1982 Vobbe joined the ecumenically minded Protestant Brotherhood of Michael. During his time as bishop, he also contributed to deepening relations with the Anglican Church.
Vobbe was elected bishop by the synod in Koblenz on 15 November 1994, and consecrated by Bishop Dr. Sigisbert Kraft in Frankfurt on 25 March 1995.
A particular milestone during Vobbe’s episcopacy was the synod’s vote in favour of women’s ordination as deacons, priests and bishops. Thanks to his conduct, the conflict between the Old Catholic diocese of Germany and the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference on this question was resolved. Bishop Vobbe ordained the first two women to the priesthood in Konstanz on Whit Monday 1996.
From 1995 to 2004, Vobbe regularly invited members of the diocese and other churches to themed week-long gatherings in Steintal, Alsace. Their conversations formed the basis for Vobbe’s pastoral letters from 1996 to 2004, which dealt with the seven sacraments, the ordination of women, and the turn of the millennium. These annual meetings continued in the form of ‘pastoral days’ between 2005 and 2009. Youth work was especially important to Vobbe, and he regularly invited young people to youth camps dedicated to a range of themes.
In June 2009, Vobbe announced that he would be stepping down as bishop for health reasons. He retired on 20 March 2010 and was succeeded by Dr. Matthias Ring.
After taking retirement, Vobbe lived with his wife in Königswinter until his death. The couple have two grown-up sons.
According to Bishop Dr. Matthias Ring, his predecessor will be widely remembered not only as a gifted speaker and preacher, but also as the author of numerous hymns and spiritual texts. “The spiritual renewal of the church and the strengthening of the spiritual dimension of Old Catholicism were especially dear to his heart,” states Ring.
Photo: Bishop emeritus Joachim Vobbe – © Katholisches Bistum der Alt-Katholiken in Deutschland