04 June 2021, The Tablet

Cardinal Marx offers to resign over abuse 'dead end'

Cardinal Marx offers to resign over abuse 'dead end'

Cardinal Reinhard Marx has offered his resignation to Pope Francis.
Eric Vandeville/Abaca

The head of the Catholic Church in Germany has offered his resignation to the Pope in an explosive move triggered by the abuse crisis.

Archbishop of Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx says in his resignation letter to Pope Francis: “Without doubt, these are times of crisis for the Church in Germany.”

In a further “personal declaration” where he clarifies his decision, he describes “systemic causes and structural hazards” which must be dealt with. He states that the Church is at a “dead end” and that the reputation of bishops in the Catholic Church has, possibly, never been lower.

And he is overtly critical of those in the Church who “refuse to accept there is a shared responsibility” for the crisis. “Through remaining silent, neglecting to act and over-focussing on the reputation of the Church I have made myself personally guilty and responsible.”

Cardinal Marx’s offer to resign will increase pressure on other prelates who have been in the spotlight in recent years.

Richard Scorer, head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, who act for many victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, told The Tablet: “While I have always said that the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church goes much deeper than any one individual, if the church is to move forward then it is imperative that senior leaders accept accountability for past failings. In that respect Cardinal Marx’s statement is in stark contrast to the response of Cardinal Nichols, who continues in his role despite being the subject some of the most serious criticisms ever made by a public inquiry. Unless the church has a culture of accountability at the senior level, it is difficult to see how past failings can be properly addressed, let alone remedied.” 

Cardinal Marx’s letter of resignation was sent to Pope Francis on 21 May but is only published now, in English and German, along with his declaration, after Pope Francis gave his permission for Cardinal Marx to release it. The Pope has not so far accepted his resignation. 

He says: “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.”

The cardinal says that there are many reasons for the crisis in Germany and the whole world, and does not believe it necessary to spell them out in detail.

“However, this crisis has also been caused by 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.

“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’.”

Since last year, he says, he has thought about this in depth and asked what it means for him personally.

Reflecting on the Easter message of death and resurrection, he therefore decided to ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation as Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

“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. 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.”

He continues: “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.

“I firmly have a different opinion. Both 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.”

He believes a change of direction, a “turning point”, is possible but only if the Church embraces the “synodal path”.

After 42 years as a priest, with 20 of these as a bishop, he adds: “It is painful for me to witness the severe damage to the bishops’ reputation in the ecclesiastical and secular perception which may even be at its lowest.

To assume responsibility, it is therefore not enough in my opinion to react only and exclusively if the files provide proof of the mistakes and failures of individuals. We as bishops have to make clear that we also represent the institution of the Church as a whole. And it is also not right to simply link these problems largely on past times and former Church officials thereby ‘burying’ what happened.

Overlooking and disregarding the victims was certainly the greatest fault of the past, he says. 

By resigning, he hopes to send “a personal signal for a new beginning, for a new awakening of the Church, not only in Germany”.

He hopes to dedicate himself in future to pastoral care and supporting an ecclesiastical renewal of the Church which the Pope himself has repeatedly called for.

In his declaration, the cardinal explains that he has repeatedly thought about his resignation over the past few months.

As a bishop, he says, he has an “institutional responsibility” for the acts of the Church in its entirety as well as for its institutional problems and failures in the past.

“And have I not helped to foster negative forms of clericalism by my own behaviour and the false concerns about the Church’s reputation? Above all, however: Has the focus on those affected by sexual abuse truly been the central leitmotif at all times? Not before 2002 and more consequently since 2010, we have truly assumed this orientation and many things have gotten under way, but we are nowhere near our objectives.”

It was not an easy decision, he says, as he likes being a priest and a bishop.

“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... However, to support a new beginning which is necessary, I would like to bear my share in the responsibility for past events. I believe that the ‘dead end’ we are facing at the moment can become a ‘turning point’. This is my paschal hope and I will continue praying and working for it to happen.”

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99