BERLIN (AP) – A prominent German cardinal and confidant of Pope Francis, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, offered to resign on Friday over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mismanagement of cases of clergy sexual abuse, saying in a gesture extraordinary that the scandals had brought the Church to “a dead end.”
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where Marx has served as Archbishop since 2007, posted his resignation letter to the Pope online, in multiple languages, and the cardinal said Francis had given him permission to make it public.
“It is important for me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse committed by Church leaders over the past decades,” Marx, 67, wrote in the letter. But he also issued a sort of challenge to his fellow bishops to seize the opportunity of the scandal to save the church and reform it.
There was no immediate comment from the Vatican, where Marx sits on powerful financial and political committees. A Vatican spokesperson said information about the resignations was announced in a daily bulletin and the Friday edition did not mention Marx. The German cardinal noted that Francis had told him to “continue to perform my service as bishop until his decision is made”.
However, Marx told reporters in Munich later on Friday that he personally read his letter to the Pope last month over the phone and after thinking and praying about it, the Pope told him last week to publish it.
Marx, who led the German Bishops’ Conference from 2014 to 2020, wrote that surveys over the past decade have shown that there have been “a lot of personal failures and administrative errors, but also of institutional or “systemic” failures ”.
In 2018, a report commissioned by the church concluded that at least 3,677 people were abused by the clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger when the abuse took place, and almost a third of them were altar boys. , according to the report.
Earlier this year, another report was released on church officials’ handling of allegations of sexual abuse in the diocese of Cologne in the west of the country. The Archbishop of Hamburg, a former Cologne church official who was blamed in this report, offered his resignation to the Pope and was granted an indefinite “time out”.
Marx himself has not been involved in any of the investigative reports to date, but he said all in the hierarchy shared responsibility for the failures. A report is expected this summer on the handling of cases of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Marx, German news agency dpa reported.
“My impression is that we are at a ‘dead end’ which, and it is my paschal hope, also has the potential to become a ‘turning point’,” Marx wrote to the Pope, saying he hoped his offer to resign would be seen. as a signal for a new beginning, “for a new awakening of the Church, not only in Germany”.
Marx later told reporters that he was not tired of being a bishop, but believed that someone had to personally take responsibility for the abuse scandal so that the church could be reformed.
“I am convinced that there will be a new era of Christianity, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “But that can only happen … if the church renews itself and learns from this crisis.”
Marx said he sees a danger that the issue of abuse will only be dealt with in a purely administrative manner, which is not enough.
“This is about the renewal and the comprehensive reform of the church. It goes hand in hand,” he said.
Marx’s offer to resign was an extraordinary gesture and exposed the credibility crisis that the scandal created in Germany, as in other countries. In an attempt to reclaim this credibility, Marx led a process of reform and debate with powerful secularists in Germany to resolve some of the structural issues that contributed to the crisis.
But the so-called “synodal path” has met with fierce resistance inside and outside Germany, mainly from conservative bishops and priests opposed to opening any debate on issues. such as priestly celibacy, the role of women in the church and homosexuality.
Resistance also came from the Vatican and bishops outside Germany, including culture warriors in the United States who broke church protocol to write critical essays of the German reform process.
In his resignation letter, Marx made no mention of his status as a member of the kitchen cabinet of Francis, a group of cardinals who advise the Pope, nor of his role as head of the Vatican Economic Council, a group of experts who oversee the Vatican finances.
The head of a powerful lay organization, the Central Committee of German Catholics, or ZdK, said he was “deeply shocked” by the cardinal’s offer to resign.
“The wrong person is leaving,” ZdK chairman Thomas Sternberg told German newspaper Rheinische Post. “What Marx has done for ecumenical Christianity, for the synodal path and also with regard to the treatment of sexual abuse (revelations) is very important.”
The ZdK has been participating for more than a year in the meetings of the Synodal Way with the German Bishops’ Conference. The meetings. slated to end in the fall, feature discussions on allowing priests to marry, ordination of women, and a different understanding of sexuality, among other reforms. The process was initiated as part of the response to revelations of clergy sexual abuse.
The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Limburg bishop Georg Baetzing, expressed his respect for Marx’s decision.
“His resignation offer makes it clear that the church in Germany must continue on the synodal path,” Baetzing said in a written statement. “The Synod Path was created to seek systemic responses to the crisis. The basic theological discussions that determine the Synod Path are therefore a significant and important part of this process.”
Some conservative commentators, however, hailed Marx’s offer to resign as proof that his ideas for the German Church via the synodal path were “dead,” not the Church itself. Some on the right have warned that the German reform process could lead to a schism or a formal break with Rome.
“No kidding, the Catholic Church in Germany was really at a dead end, if by ‘dead end’ we mean the liberal and modernist path led by Cdl Marx,” said Rod Dreher, an Orthodox convert from Catholicism and columnist for The American Conservative . “He is right to resign. Let someone stand up who can provide leadership based on truth.”
Other prominent cardinals and bishops had previously offered to resign over alleged involvement in abuses-related lapses, only to see Francis sit on the decision for a while.
French cardinal Philippe Barbarin offered to resign in 2019 after a French court found him guilty of failing to denounce a pedophile priest. Francois refused to accept the resignation pending the outcome of Barbarin’s appeal, although he accepted it the following year, when Barbarin was acquitted.
Francis allowed Australian Cardinal George Pell, his Minister of the Economy, to take extended leave in 2017 to return home and stand trial on old charges of sexual abuse. Pell’s conviction was overturned by the High Court of Australia last year, but by that time Pell was only one year away from retirement age and Francis had already appointed a successor.