German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, former president of the bishops’ conference, on Friday caused a real earthquake in the German Catholic Church by announcing that he offered Pope Francis to resign as archbishop and thus recognize the responsibility of the institution in child abuse.
Marx, 67, who was ordained a priest 42 years ago, is a member of C9, the Council of Cardinals created by Francis to advise him on his reforms, hence an influential hierarch, who explained to the press that his decision is «totally personal» and that the pope asked him to continue in his posts.
The archbishop of Munich and Freising also revealed that he consulted with Francis about his decision and that the pontiff authorized him to publish the letter in which he offered his resignation, but in an appearance before the press he added that «everyone has to assume their responsibilities.»
«Those affected are waiting for a sign of the assumption of responsibilities,» Cardinal Marx said, without alluding to any other high-ranking official of the German Church despite the fact that the decision was already interpreted on Friday in Germany as a clear pressure on the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki.
This was especially pointed out in a report recently published in that city of the powerful archdiocese of the west of the country, which has more Catholic faithful, although it was exonerated of direct responsibility in the 314 cases of abuse considered in an analysis that includes cases that occurred between 1975 and 2018.
Decision to promote the renewal of the Church
«We have to assume responsibility for the institution,» Marx continued, explaining the reasons for a decision that he said he considered last Easter and that he sees as a way to promote «the renewal» of the Catholic Church.
He insisted that such a change will only be possible «if we draw lessons from this» and then alluded to the «synodal path», the path chosen by the German Church to implement internal reforms that is based on a debate with the faithful and that arose after the discontent and desires for change that generated precisely the scandals of sexual abuse.
Marx is the main exponent of this method despite the fact that in the past he has encountered resistance within the Vatican curia, as when the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, Marc Ouellet, warned him that the path chosen by the German Church was hardly compatible with canon law.
A recent example of Marx’s attitude this week was his allusion on the Catholic holiday of Corpus to the genocide admitted by Germany in its colonial adventure in Namibia or the cardinal’s financial support for civilian missions to rescue immigrants in the Mediterranean.
In 2018, the cardinal also spoke during the Synod on youth held at the Vatican when he assured that the credibility of the Church «would increase much more with women occupying positions of leadership at all levels of the Church, from the parish to the Vatican itself.»
Before the Vatican commission on abuse
Marx’s announcement follows the one made on May 28 by the Vatican Nunciature in Germany, which announced the creation of an apostolic commission on cases of abuse, which will analyze «possible errors» of Cardinal Woelki.
He previously admitted that there was a «systemic cover-up» of child abuse cases in his archdiocese, following the release of a report commissioned from a Cologne law firm that merely examined the behaviour of the hierarchy.
The Vatican commission will begin its work in the middle of this month and will be composed of the Cardinal Archbishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, and the Bishop of Rotterdam and president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, Johannes von den Hende.
Both will also discuss «the behaviour in cases of sexual abuse» of the Cardinal Archbishop of Hamburg (north), Stefan Heße, as well as Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff, auxiliary bishops of Cologne.
The Vatican announcement came weeks after Woelki acknowledged that in the administration of the archdiocese there was «chaos» and a «system of silence, secrecy and lack of control.»
The report found that senior Catholic Church officials knew of cases of sexual abuse of minors, but failed in their duty to properly report and act.
Its content was also released after months of criticism of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Germany for the lack of clarity in addressing the issue of child abuse and in the context of an increase in the abandonment of the Catholic faithful.
In 2019, 272,771 church abandonments were recorded Catholic in Germany, a record and last year for which data are available, according to figures from the Bishops’ Conference; the Evangelical Church recorded the departure of 270,000 faithful.
Last January, the cologne authorities announced that the number of declared abandonments of the Catholic Church reached the average of one thousand cases per month, when the usual is that around 640 are registered per month.