ROME – Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany, has offered his resignation to Pope Francis, despite being eight years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 75, saying he wants to take his share of responsibility for the “catastrophe of sexual abuse” by representatives of the Catholic Church.
Under church law, a bishop may offer his resignation, but it’s always up to the pope to the decide whether to accept it. In the meantime, Marx said in a message to reporters that Francis has asked him to remain in office.
“It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades,” Marx wrote to Pope Francis in a letter dated May 21 that was meant to be as “confidential and personal,” but which was released to the media by the Munich archdiocese after the pontiff reportedly told Marx the letter would be made public.
“The investigations and reports of the last ten years have consistently shown that there have been many personal failures and administrative mistakes, but also institutional or ‘systemic’ failure,” the cardinal wrote.
The Catholic Church in Germany has long been struggling to address the clerical abuse crisis, with several top-ranking officials, including Marx but also Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne among others, accused of mishandling allegations.
Marx, who is a member of the council of cardinals who advice the pope on the reform of the Roman curia, began his letter to the pontiff saying that “undoubtedly” the Church in Germany is going through moments of crisis. There are many reasons for this crisis, he wrote, including “our own failure, by our own guilt.”
“This has become clearer and clearer to me looking at the Catholic Church as a whole, not only today but also in the past decades,” Marx wrote.
“My impression is that we are at a ‘dead end’ which, and this is my paschal hope, also has the potential of becoming a turning point,” he wrote, acknowledging that he had been thinking about his decision to give the pope his resignation for the past year, and that he was encouraged by the “Easter period” to ask Francis to accept it.
Marx said that even though there are some in the Church who refuse to accept their shared responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis, he believes all aspects have to be considered: “Mistakes for which you are personally responsible, and the institutional failure which requires changes and a reform of the Church.”
“We as bishops have to make clear that we also represent the institution of the Church as a whole,” he said.
“A turning point out of this crisis is, in my opinion, only possible if we take a ‘synodal path’, a path which actually enables a ‘discernment of spirits,’ as you have repeatedly emphasized and reiterated in your letter to the Church in Germany,” Marx wrote.
The clerical abuse crisis and its subsequent cover up, the cardinal acknowledged in his letter to the pope, cannot simply be linked to problems on past times, and remaining silent while focusing only on the reputation of the Church he himself is personally guilty and responsible.
“Only after 2002 and even more since 2010, those affected by sexual abuse have been brought to the fore more consequently and this change of perspective has not yet been completed,” Marx wrote. “Overlooking and disregarding the victims was certainly our greatest fault of the past.
Marx “strongly” requested the pope to accept his resignation, while making himself available to continue being a priest and a bishop, committing himself for pastoral matters and to supporting an ecclesiastical renewal.
In a letter addressed to reporters, Marx wrote that Francis had requested him to continue acting as the Archbishop of Munich until his decision is made. The prelate wrote that the abuse crisis has changed his faith, because it not only requires an improvement of administration, but a renewal of the Church and a new way to proclaim the faith.
The cardinal referenced a 2018 report known as the Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Gießen study, or MHG, in which researchers analyzed the response to clergy sexual abuse cases in 27 dioceses in Germany from 1946 to 2014, and found that more than 4 percent of clergy allegedly committed sexual abuse and counted 3,677 minors as victims.
Victims who had experienced abuse by a member of a religious orders weren’t covered in the report.
The MHG report pointed to systemic issues underlying the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, namely excessive power by clergy, the Church’s strict views on sexual morality, and poor priestly formation.
“Inspections of the files and research regarding specific mistakes and failures of the past, including the question of the respective responsibilities, are inevitable components of dealing with the past, but they do not constitute the entire renewal,” Marx wrote in a letter published June 4. Hence his support for Germany’s “Synodal Path,” which takes aspects of this report and aims at deepening them theologically.
The prelate said that he will have to face possible mistakes and failures he made during the 20 years he’s served as the leader of a major diocese, but he’s convinced that it’s not enough to only accept responsibility for mistakes concerning Canon Law or resulting from a review of allegations.
“As a bishop, I have an ‘institutional responsibility’ for the acts of the Church in its entirety, as well as for its institutional problems and failures in the past,” Marx wrote. “And have I not helped to foster negative forms of clericalism by my own behavior and the false concerns about the Church’s reputation?”
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