Munich Archbishop Cardinal Reinhard Marx said he accepted responsibility for his role in a documented history of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Munich and Freising in the southern German state of Bavaria.
While speaking at the Catholic Academy in Munich on Thursday, Marx acknowledged several times that he had personally not done enough to help victims, saying: "That is unforgivable. We were not really interested in their suffering. The way I see it, that also had to do with systemic issues, at the same time, as archbishop, I bear moral responsibility."
The cardinal once again asked victims for forgiveness, "personally and in the name of the diocese." Moreover, he appealed to Catholics: "who doubt the Church, who can no longer trust those in authority and whose faith has been damaged. For too long we have failed to focus sufficiently on and involve parishes where perpetrators were posted."
Only a 'renewed Church' has a future in Germany
Marx underscored the urgency of dealing with the issue in stark terms: "There is no future for Christianity in our country without a renewed Church. For me, the reappraisal of sexual abuse is part of a fundamental renewal."
The Munich religious leader's words come just days after a damning report on the history of sexual abuse of children and minors in the diocese outlined crimes against at least 497 victims since 1945.
The report, prepared by the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), says that some 235 perpetrators were involved in the crimes. Investigators believe the true number of incidents of abuse to be far higher.
"Anyone who still denies the systemic causes, or disputes the need for reform of the Church's positions and its structures, has failed to understand the challenge before us," Marx said in response to its findings.
Among those implicated in the report were several of Marx's predecessors, most famously, Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI.
After initially denying knowledge of four specific cases of abuse, the former pontiff has recently offered a half-hearted admission acknowledging that he had made "incorrect statements," during the WSW investigation, though not with "ill intent."
Marx, on Thursday, said "Now we know enough to look more closely and be able to act differently."
Marx still willing to step aside in theory
The 68-year-old Marx, who had previously offered his resignation, told those gathered in Munich: "My offer of resignation last year was very serious. Pope Francis decided differently and called on me to responsibly continue to carry out my job."
Marx however said that he was still prepared to step aside should he prove "more of a hindrance than a help" going forward. "I am not glued to my office," he said.
Last June, Marx submitted a letter of resignation to Pope Francis as a gesture of his own responsibility in the affair. Francis rejected the letter, thanking Marx for exhibiting "Christian courage that does not fear the cross, that does not fear being humiliated before the tremendous reality of sin."
Acknowledging "the whole Church is in crisis because of the abuse issue," the pontiff wrote, "the Church today cannot take a step forward without addressing this crisis. Taking up the crisis, personally and communally, is the only fruitful way, because we do not come out of a crisis alone but in community."
js/msh (dpa, epd, KNA)