POPE FRANCIS has refused to accept the resignation of the RC Archbishop of Munich & Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, over the German Church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse.
It emerged last week that Cardinal Marx had visited Pope Francis and submitted a letter of resignation on 21 May (News, 4 June). This was made public last Friday, but has since been rejected by the Pope.
In his letter, Cardinal Marx writes: “In essence, it is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by church officials over the past decades. . . I feel that, through remaining silent, neglecting to act, and over-focusing on the reputation of the Church, I have made myself personally guilty and responsible.”
The RC Church in Germany has been in crisis since 2010 over a series of sexual-abuse scandals, he writes, exacerbated by cover-ups and inadequate investigations.
“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,” Cardinal Marx writes. “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.”
In a personal statement also issued last week, the Cardinal said: “With my resignation, I would like to make clear that I am willing to personally bear responsibility not only for any mistakes I might have made but for the Church as an institution which I have helped to shape and mould over the past decades.”
In a responding letter on Friday, the Pope writes: “I agree with you that we are dealing with a catastrophe: the sad history of sexual abuse and the way the Church has dealt with it until recently.
“You rightly say in your letter that it does us no good to bury the past. The silence, the omissions, the exaggerated weight given to the prestige of the institutions — all this only leads to personal and historical fiasco; it leads us to live with the burden of having — as the saying goes — ‘skeletons in the closet’.”
The Pope continues: “It is important to ‘ventilate’ the reality of abuse and the way the Church has dealt with it and allow the Spirit to lead us into the wilderness of desolation, to the cross and resurrection.”
He said that he admired Cardinal Marx’s promise to remain in the service of the Church where he was needed. “And that is exactly my answer, dear brother. Continue as you suggest, but as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. And if you are tempted to think that this Bishop of Rome (your brother who loves you), by confirming your ministry and not accepting your resignation, does not understand you, remember what Peter heard in the Lord’s presence when he offered him his renunciation in his own way: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinner’ — and heard the answer: ‘Feed/Pasture my sheep.’”
Last December, Cardinal Marx set up a foundation, Spes et Salus (“Hope and Well-being”), for victims of sexual abuse, donating half a million euros of his private wealth to it.
“It is an impressive step that finally a bishop in Germany speaks in the first person and takes responsibility,” said Matthias Katsch, a spokesperson for the German victims’ association Eckiger Tisch (“Angular Table”, a commentary on the RC Church’s efforts at round-table discussions with survivors).
He continued: “The cardinals and bishops are the ones who led the Church worldwide into this crisis, and it is therefore right that one of them should now take personal responsibility for it — beyond the question of breaches of duty he himself may be accused of committing in investigations that are still pending.”
In the past, victims’ associations have said that Cardinal Marx has not consistently investigated cases of sexualised violence, and have accused him of cover-ups while he was Bishop of Trier, from 2002 to 2008.
On 30 April, the Cardinal declined the Federal German Cross of Merit three days before the state President was due to award it, after an association of victims of abuse in the diocese of Trier alleged that, during his time there, he had refused to talk to victims, opting instead for trivialisation, intimidation, and the protection of perpetrators of abuse.
In his resignation letter, the Cardinal was critical of some of the Church’s leaders, although he mentions none by name. “The recent debates have shown that some members of the Church refuse to believe that there is a shared responsibility in this respect, and that the Church as an institution is hence also to be blamed for what has happened, and therefore disapprove of discussing reforms and renewal in the context of the sexual-abuse crisis.”
The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, has resisted calls for his resignation after a report criticised his handling of allegations of past clerical abuse. Germany’s largest diocese has become a symbol of cover-ups of church sexual abuse.
On Monday, the Bishop of Stockholm, Cardinal Anders Arborelius, and the Bishop of Rotterdam, Mgr Johannes van den Hende, arrived in Cologne for a visitation ordered by Pope Francis. They will investgate how the bishops and auxiliary bishops handled past cases of sexual abuse.
The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Thomas Sternberg, told a press agency of his sadness at Cardinal Marx’s resignation: “The wrong person is leaving.”