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Pope rejects German cardinal's resignation

June 10, 2021

Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx had offered to step down over the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The pope agreed that the Church needs to be reformed.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Marx
The pope rejected the cardinal's resignation, but agreed with the need to reform the Catholic ChurchImage: AFP

Pope Francis said that he rejected the offer of resignation from the Archbishop of Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx in a letter published by the Vatican on Thursday.

Marx had told the pope he would step down amid the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church in recent years. Marx has not been accused of sexual abuse himself, but called it a "matter of sharing responsibility."

The Catholic Church in Germany has been shaken by a barrage of allegations that members of the clergy have carried out wide-ranging abuse against minors for years.

What did the pope say?

The pope said that it was up to every bishop, not just Marx, to take responsibility for the "catastrophe" of the abuse crisis.

"Continue as you propose (in your pastoral work) but as Archbishop of Munich and Freising," the pope wrote to Marx, referring to the position he was offering to vacate.

While the pope refused to accept Marx's resignation, he agreed that it was necessary to introduce a reform "that doesn't consist in words but attitudes that have the courage of putting oneself in crisis, of assuming reality regardless of the consequences.''

"The entire Church is in crisis because of the abuse issue" and "the Church cannot proceed without tackling this crisis. The policy of burying the head in the sand leads nowhere," Pope Francis wrote.

Christian Weisner, spokesperson for the Catholic reform movement We Are Church, called the pope's response a sign of "fraternal reinforcement," adding that it showed that "even more than a change in personnel, a structural, mental and spiritual change is needed."

Why did Cardinal Marx want to resign?

The 67-year-old German cardinal published his letter of resignation — dated May 21 — last Friday. In his letter, he said that investigations over the past 10 years have shown the "institutional and systemic failure" within the Catholic Church.

He also complained that "some in the church do not want to acknowledge this element of co-responsibility and thus also complicity of the institution" and were thus opposed to necessary reform.

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.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx speaks on sex abuse scandal at press conference

Correction: The initial version of this article showed a picture of Cardinal Marx with Pope Benedikt, not the current Pope Francis. This has been amended and we apologize for the oversight.

ab/rt (dpa, KNA, AFP)