10 June 2021, The Tablet

A rare moral example: Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal marx resignation


The resignation of Cardinal Reinhard Marx as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, one of the most influential sees in the Catholic world, has sent a shock wave through the Vatican and the German Church. But its implications are even wider. He has invoked a convention known in Britain as “ministerial responsibility”. This convention says that the head of an administrative structure must accept responsibility for mistakes made by subordinates, even if they had no personal involvement in that mistake.

In Cardinal Marx’s case, he has made it clear that his particular regret concerns the handling of allegations of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, the implication being that the failure is as much structural and institutional as it is personal. The child-abuse scandal is symptomatic of an all-pervasive belief in the Catholic Church that is a law unto itself. So light supervision by Rome of local Catholic hierarchies is all that is necessary. Answerability – the duty to explain oneself and if necessary to correct mistakes – is upwards, not downwards. Bishops are left, in effect, to “mark their own homework”.

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