08 June 2021, The Tablet

German lay Catholics 'shattered' by Marx resignation

German lay Catholics 'shattered' by Marx resignation

Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, pictured heading for St Konrad parish church on Sunday.
Matthias Balk/dpa/Alamy

The head of Germany's lay Catholics has said he is “shattered” by the resignation of Cardinal Reinhard Marx while others have written to Pope Francis, asking him not to accept.

The head of the Central Committee of German lay Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, with whom Marx initiated the German synodal path for church reform in December 2019, told the Rheinische Post that he was “shattered” by Marx’s resignation. “Should the Pope accept his resignation, that will leave a huge hole in the German Church”, he said.

A large number of Germany’s 68 bishops said they highly respected Marx’s decision, while French bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims told La Croixon the evening of 4 June that Marx’s letter to the Pope “gives the reason for his decision – but it is his aloneness that impresses me.” 

Fr Mark Butaye OP, general secretary of the commission for migration in the Belgian bishops’ conference, has written an open letter to Pope Francis begging him not to accept Marx’s resignation and to allow him to continue with the German synodal path for church reform. Fr Butaye had the “full support” of the well-known Czech theologian Fr Tomas Halik, winner of the 2014 Templeton Prize, and Austrian pastoral theologian Fr Paul Zulehner of Vienna University. 

Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich, one of the most senior figures in the German Catholic Church and head of the bishops’ conference from 2014 until 2020, offered his resignation to the Pope in an explosive move triggered by the Church's “institutional and systemic failure” in its handling of child sex abuse scandals.

In his letter to Pope Francis dated 21 May and released on 4 June, Marx said: “It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”

He stated that the Church is at a “dead end” and that the reputation of bishops in the Catholic Church has, possibly, never been lower.

The cardinal said that there are many reasons for the crisis in Germany and the whole world, and he did 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’.”

Marx assured journalists at a press conference in Munich in the afternoon of 4 June that he was neither “weary of office nor demotivated”. Asked whether he expected other German bishops to follow his example and take personal responsibility for the “catastrophe” of priestly sexual abuse, Marx replied that his resignation was his personal decision. “Everyone must assume responsibility in whatever way they think right.”

He firmly believed in a new epoch of Christianity, the cardinal said. The German synodal path for church reform “will come about more easily if the Church learns its lesson from the [abuse] crisis. It is a matter of renewal and of reforming the Church”, he explained. 

Until Pope Francis reached a decision as to his future, he would remain in office as archbishop of Munich and carry out his usual duties. That and the publication both of his letter and a “personal explanation for the letter” had been agreed with the Pope. In the personal explanation, Marx underlines that he is assuming responsibility for the failure of the Church as an institution. 

German bishops’ conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing was the first to react to the news of Marx’s resignation. He deeply regretted that Marx had asked the Pope to accept his resignation but had great respect for his decision, Bätzing commented. Marx had informed him of his decision beforehand, Bätzing said. 

In a statement published by the archdiocese of Cologne, the archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, recalled that he, too, had in December 2020, written to the Pope and asked him to assess how he, Woelki, had handled priestly sexual abuse in his archdiocese. He had “trustingly laid his fate in the Pope’s hands”, he recalled.






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