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Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx offers resignation to pope

June 4, 2021

One of Germany's most senior Catholic clerics has offered his resignation to Pope Francis. He said in his letter that he wanted to take a share of responsibility "for the catastrophe of sexual abuse" by church members.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, in charge one of the most prestigious dioceses in Germany, was also until recently chairman of the Catholic German Bishops' ConferenceImage: ULMER Pressebildagentur/imago images

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has offered Pope Francis his resignation from his position as archbishop of Munich and Freising, saying the Catholic Church had reached a "dead point." He said he hoped his resignation would help show that a new start was possible.

"In essence, for me it is about sharing responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by church officials in the past few decades," Marx wrote to the pope, explaining his reasons for the decision.

Marx said investigations and reports of the past 10 years showed him there had not only been "a lot of personal failure and administrative errors," but "also institutional and systemic failure" within the Catholic Church.

Recent discussions have shown "that some in the church do not want to acknowledge this element of co-responsibility and thus also complicity of the institution and are therefore opposed to any reform and renewal dialogue in connection with the abuse crisis," he wrote in a letter to the pope dated May 21 and published on Friday by his archdiocese in Munich.

The archdiocese said in its press release on the issue that Pope Francis had since responded to Cardinal Marx, telling him that he could make the letter public, and  to remain in his role until he received an answer.

Sexual abuse in Germany – A cardinal under pressure

'Ready to take personal responsibility' 

For months, Marx said he had repeatedly thought about resigning from office.

"Events and discussions of the last few weeks only play a subordinate role," he said, but stressed that his offer of resignation was a very personal decision.

"I would like to make it clear: I am ready to take personal responsibility, not only for my own mistakes, but for the church as an institution, which I have helped to shape for decades," he said. 

A press conference was scheduled for 2 p.m. local time (1200 UTC) on Friday.

Cologne archbishop criticized over abuse report

Advocating for reform

Marx has previously apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church to the victims of sexual abuse.

In April, he rejected the Federal Cross of Merit amid criticism from victims' groups over the Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse reports.

In response to Marx's offer of resignation, Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, expressed both feelings of respect and regret. 

Marx had been president of the German Bishops' Conference from 2012 to 2020.

"As chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Marx has done groundbreaking work for the Church in Germany and worldwide. In the German Bishops' Conference, he is one of the supporting pillars," he said. 

"With his step, Cardinal Marx wants to set an example and personally assume institutional responsibility that the church has to bear in connection with the cases of sexual abuse and their cover-up," Bätzing continued. "In fact, the crimes have exposed systemic weaknesses in the church that equally call for systemic responses. An exclusively legal reappraisal and administrative changes are not enough," he added.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference under Marx's presidency and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed a type of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, from 1946 through 2014.

The study found that the number of victims was certainly much higher.

Pope orders investigation over German church sex abuse reports

In May, Pope Francis sent two envoys to the diocese of Cologne to investigate "possible mistakes" in handling of reports on child sexual abuse.

The decision came after an investigation found more than 300 cases of abuse at the church of children mostly under the age of 14 between 1975 and 2018. Over 200 abusers were involved in harming the children.

A March report into the church's handling of sexual abuse allegations found 75 instances in which church officials neglected their obligations to deal with cases of abuse.

Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki has been criticized for not releasing a report that detailed earlier sexual abuse claims towards priests at the diocese. He claims unspecified methodological shortcomings prevent the report from being released.

The two inspectors heading to Cologne this month include Bishop of Stockholm Anders Cardinal Arborelius and Bishop of Rotterdam Johannes van der Hende.

The series of scandals have prompted thousands of church members to leave Germany's largest diocese. The Cologne Catholic Church is also the world's richest diocese by some measures, bringing in more income than the Vatican.

Intensified media coverage of pedophile priests and repeated complaints by victims of sexual abuse have prompted stronger scrutiny of church practices worldwide. 

On Tuesday, Pope Francis amended church law to criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests and to allow the punishment of laypeople who hold positions in the church for similar crimes.

Germany's Catholic Church counted 22.6 million members in 2019 and remains the largest religion in the country. 

Too white and too Eurocentric?

mvb/msh (AFP, Reuters, KNA)