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Cardinal Marx offers to resign, citing ‘systemic failure’ on abuse

June 04, 2021

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich has offered his resignation, citing the Church’s “systemic failure” to address the sex-abuse scandal.

Cardinal Marx, one of the world’s most influential Catholic prelates, used his resignation offer to press the case for dramatic changes in the Church. He expressed his strong support for the “Synodal Path” that the German hierarchy has undertaken, calling for changes in Church teaching on a range of controversial issues including homosexuality, intercommunion, and women’s ordination.

The German cardinal made his offer to resign in a letter to Pope Francis, dated May 21. The Munich archdiocese made the letter public on June 4, saying that the Pope had authorized its release.

Pope Francis has not officially responded to the letter from a cardinal who has been one of his closest allies and advisers, and the Pontiff may choose not to accept the resignation. The Vatican has offered no comment.

Cardinal Marx is 67 years old: well short of the normal retirement age of 75. And his proposed resignation is particularly noteworthy because of his enormous influence. He is a member of the Council of Cardinals, the small body advising the Pontiff on Vatican reform. He also head’s the Vatican’s Council for the Economy. And is a former president of the German bishops’ conference, who still retains his power within that body.

“I have to share responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by officials of the Church over past decades,” Cardinal Marx wrote in a letter to Pope Francis, explaining his offer to step down.

While he highlighted the sex-abuse crisis in his resignation letter, Cardinal Marx also strongly advocated fundamental changes in Church teaching and practice.

The powerful German cardinal argued that the Catholic Church faces a “dead end,” and can recover only by addressing “fundamental theological questions.” He referred to a German report that attributed the sex-abuse crisis to a culture of clericalism and to the Church’s unpopular teaching on issues of sexuality.

The German hierarchy has made that report an important factor in the “Synodal Path”—a process that has provoked direct confrontations with the Vatican and caused fears of schism. Cardinal Marx wrote that he has “strongly supported the project of the Synodal Path.” He emphasized: “This past must be continued!”

Bishop Georg Batzing of Limburg, who succeeded Cardinal Marx as president of the German bishops’ conference, took note: “His resignation offer makes clear that the Church in Germany needs to continue the Synodal Path.”

Cardinal Marx complained in his letter that the Church’s response to the abuse crisis has focused on administrative solutions rather than addressing “systemic causes and hazards.” In this context he spoke of the necessity to confront “fundamental theological questions.”

The cardinal suggested that the changes proposed in the Synodal Path could give the Church new life. “I believe that the ‘dead end’ we are facing at the moment can become a turning point,” he wrote.

Along with his considerable influence in the universal Church, Cardinal Marx also presides over one of the world’s wealthiest archdioceses. The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, which he has led since 2008, has financial assets valued at over $3 billion, thanks to the German system that gives churches a portion of the income taxes paid by registered parishioners.

However, while that tax system has provided rich financial resources for the Catholic Church in Germany, it has also prompted many thousands of Catholics to drop their formal affiliation in recent years, in order to avoid the tax surcharge.

In the Munich archdiocese particularly, each year between 10,000 and 20,000 people have formally renounced their membership in the Catholic Church. In 2000, about 57% of the population in the Munich region was Catholic; today that figure is under 46%.


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  • Posted by: Ken - Jun. 04, 2021 10:27 PM ET USA

    Let. Him. Go.

  • Posted by: mhains8491 - Jun. 04, 2021 8:17 PM ET USA

    On his watch there has been a catastrophic decline in the practice of the faith in his Diocese. Moreover he fails to address sexual abuse in his Diocese, when he had the power to do so. Yet he says he has the answers by remaking the Church in his own image, instead of Christ’s. Breath taking self-delusion and an example of failing all the way to the top. Marx is not a shepherd of the flock, but a wolf.