A leading German cardinal and confidant of Pope Francis on Friday offered to resign over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of cases of clergy sexual abuse.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx declared in an extraordinary gesture that the scandals had brought the church “to a dead end.”
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where Marx has been archbishop since 2007, published his letter of resignation 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 responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by church officials in recent decades,” Marx, 67, wrote in the letter.
But he also challenged his fellow bishops to take the opportunity of the scandal to save and reform the church.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx (right), a leading German cardinal and close confidant of Pope Francis (left), offered to resign Friday over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of cases of clergy sexual abuse
There was no immediate comment from the Vatican, where Marx sits on powerful financial and political committees.
A Vatican spokesman said information about the resignation will be announced in a daily bulletin, and Marx was not mentioned in Friday’s edition.
The German cardinal noted that Francis had told him to “continue to exercise my service as bishop until his decision is made.”
But Marx later on Friday told reporters in Munich that he had read his letter to the Pope personally over the phone last month and that the Pope, after thinking about it and praying, told him to publish it last week.
Marx, who chaired the German Bishops’ Conference from 2014 to 2020, wrote that investigations over the past decade have revealed “many personal and administrative mistakes, as well as institutional or ‘systemic’ failures.”
In 2018, a report commissioned by the Church concluded that at least 3,677 people in Germany were abused by clergymen between 1946 and 2014.
More than half of the victims were 13 or younger when the abuse took place, and nearly a third of them were altar boys, the report said.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx declared in an extraordinary gesture that the scandals had brought the church “to a dead end.” He published his letter of resignation to the Pope online, in multiple languages, saying Francis had given him permission to make it public
Earlier this year, another report appeared on how church officials are dealing with alleged sexual abuse in the western diocese of Cologne.
The Archbishop of Hamburg, a former Cologne church official accused in that report, tendered his resignation to the Pope and was given an indefinite ‘time-out’.
Marx himself has not been involved in any of the investigative reports to date, but he said all members of the hierarchy shared the blame for the failures.
A report is expected this summer on the handling of sexual abuse cases in Marx’s archdiocese, the German news agency dpa reported.
“My impression is that we are in a ‘dead end’ which, and this is my Easter hope, also has the potential to be a ‘turning point’,” Marx wrote to the pope, saying he hoped his offer to decline to step down 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 should take personal responsibility for the abuse scandal so that the church can be reformed.
“I am convinced that a new era of Christianity will come, 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 the danger that the abuse issue is only being dealt with administratively, which is not enough.
The German cardinal noted that Francis (pictured) had told him to ‘continue to exercise my service as bishop until his decision is made’
“It is about the general renewal and reform of the Church. This belongs together,” he said.
Marx’s offer to resign was an extraordinary gesture, exposing the credibility crisis that the scandal caused in Germany, as it did in other countries.
To try and regain that credibility, Marx has spearheaded a process of reform and debate with the powerful German laymen to address some of the structural problems that contributed to the crisis.
But the so-called “synodal path” has provoked strong opposition both inside and outside Germany, mainly from conservative bishops and priests who oppose opening a debate on issues such as priestly celibacy, the role of women in the church and homosexuality.
There has also been opposition from the Vatican and bishops outside Germany, including culture warriors in the United States who have broken church protocol to write critical essays on Germany’s reform process.
In his letter of resignation, Marx made no mention of his status as a member of Francis’ kitchen cabinet, a group of cardinals who advise the Pope, or his role as head of the Vatican’s Economic Council, a group of experts that oversee Vatican finances.
Marx, who chaired the German Bishops’ Conference from 2014 to 2020, wrote that studies over the past decade have revealed “many personal and administrative mistakes, as well as institutional or ‘systemic’ failures”
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 the German newspaper Rheinische Post. “What Marx did for ecumenical Christianity, for the synodal path and also when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse (revelations) is very important.”
The ZdK has been participating in the meetings of the Synodal Path with the German Bishops’ Conference for more than a year.
The meetings. to be completed in the fall will include discussions of allowing priests to marry, the ordination of women, and a different understanding of sexuality, among other reforms.
The trial was launched as part of the response to clergy sexual abuse revelations.
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.
French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin offered to resign in 2019 after a French court convicted him of failing to report a pedophile priest
‘The Synodal Path was created to search for systemic responses to the crisis. The basic, theological discussions that define the Synodal Path are therefore an important and important part of this process.’
However, some conservative commentators applauded Marx’s resignation offer as proof that his ideas for the German church through 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 joke, the Catholic Church in Germany had really hit a dead end, if by ‘dead end’ one means the liberal, modernist way forward led by Cdl Marx,” said Rod Dreher, an Orthodox convert from Catholicism and columnist. for The American Conservative. “He is right to resign. Raise up someone who can provide truth-based leadership.”
Other top cardinals and bishops previously offered to resign over alleged involvement in abuse-related failings, but Francis remained behind the decision for some time.
French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin offered to resign in 2019 after a French court convicted him of failing to report a pedophile priest.
Francis 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 economy minister, to take an extended leave of absence in 2017 to return home to face long-standing sexual abuse allegations. Pell’s conviction was overturned by the Australian Supreme Court last year, but by then Pell was just a year off retirement age and Francis had already named a successor.