The spectacular gesture says a lot about the gravity of the crisis shaking the German Catholic Church. Thirteen years after his appointment as head of the archdiocese of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx announced on Friday June 4 that he had handed in his resignation to Pope Francis.
In a letter addressed to the latter – whom he met in Rome on May 21 to inform him of his decision – the former president of the German Bishops’ Conference explains that he wants to “To assume co-responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual assaults committed by representatives of the Church in recent decades”, before adding: “The surveys and expertise of the last ten years have constantly shown me that there have been both personal failures and administrative errors, but also an institutional failure. The Church has not known how to assume the “systemic” responsibility. “
Aged 67, Cardinal Marx is not at his first coup. At the end of April, he had made public another letter, this one addressed to the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in which he renounced the Federal Cross of Merit, the equivalent of the Legion of Honor.
The announcement of this decoration had provoked the indignation of the victims of sexual assault, the prelate being accused of having turned a blind eye to acts committed by a priest of the diocese of Trier at the time when he was its bishop. (2002-2008). Explaining “Take criticism very seriously”, he then wanted this event to be an opportunity for reflection and self-criticism on the part of the German Church, engaged since early 2020 in a “Synodal path”, name given to an unprecedented dialogue, carried out jointly by the Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics in a spirit of reform.
Spokesman for the reformers
By renouncing this distinction and then, a month later, by publicly announcing that he had asked to be relieved of his office as archbishop, Cardinal Marx posed more than ever as a spokesperson for the reformers in the face of those he accuses, in his letter to the Pope, not to want “Accept the responsibility and the complicity of the institution” and of « s’oppose[r] to any dialogue of reform and renewal in connection with the crisis of sexual assault ”.
Without quoting it, Cardinal Marx clearly alludes here to Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, accused of having long covered two priests suspected of sexual violence. In mid-May, the Pope appointed two “apostolic visitors”, extraordinary papal envoys, charged with“To apprehend the complex pastoral situation within the archdiocese and to study possible faults” of several prelates of the diocese, including Cardinal Woelki, for whom calls for resignation have multiplied in recent months.
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