Germany’s top and most secret cardinal of Pope Francis, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, said he would resign on Friday from the Catholic Church’s alleged misconduct on the grounds of sexual harassment by clergymen, announcing to the public that the church had arrived “at last.”
The archbishop of Munich and Freising, where Marx serves as archbishop, has published a letter of resignation addressed to the pope online, in many languages, and the cardinal said Francis had given him permission to make it public.
“It is important for me to participate in dealing with the tragedy of sexual harassment by Church officials decades ago,” Marx, 67, wrote in a letter. But he also posed a challenge of some kind to his fellow bishops to seize the opportunity of shame to save the church and repair it.
No immediate comment was made from the Vatican, where Marx resides in powerful financial and political institutions. A Vatican spokesman said details of the resignation were announced in a daily newsletter, and Friday’s program did not mention Marx. The German cardinal noted that Francis had told him to “continue my service as bishop until his decision was made.”
Marx, who chaired the German Bishops’ Conference from 2014 to 2020, wrote that investigations over the past decade had shown that there were many personal failings and administrative errors but also institutional or ‘systemic’ failures.
In 2018, a report submitted by the church concluded that at least 3,677 people had been harassed by German clergy between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 years of age or younger when the abuse occurred, and about a third of them were altar boys, according to the report.
Earlier this year, another report emerged regarding the treatment of church officials over allegations of sexual harassment in the western province of Cologne. The archbishop of Hamburg, a former Cologne archbishop who erred in the report, offered his pardon to the pope and was granted a “rest period” of unspecified length.
Marx himself has not been involved in any of the investigative reports to date, but said all members of the executive committee are facing charges of failure. A report is expected this summer on the handling of sexual harassment cases in the Archbishop of Marx, a German news agency reported.
In a letter to the pope, Marx stated that his resignation could be viewed as “a personal sign of a new beginning, of reviving the Church, and not just in Germany.”
“I would like to show that it is not a past service but the purpose of the Gospel,” he added.
Marx’s resignation was a rare act that exposed the shame of sexual harassment in Germany, as it does in other lands. In an effort to restore that trust, Marx led a process of reform and negotiations with a powerful German society to address the structural problems that have contributed to the abuses that have allowed it to grow uncontrolled for decades.
But the so-called “Synod’s Way” has caused serious opposition both inside and outside Germany, especially to bishops and priests who have long been opposed to open any debate on issues such as celibacy, the role of women in the church, and homosexuality.
Opposition also erupted in the Vatican with bishops outside Germany, including cultural heroes in the United States who violated church policy to write essays criticizing the ongoing reform process in Germany.
In his letter, Marx did not mention his position as a member of Francis’ kitchen cabinet, a group of cardinal advisers who had been meeting regularly to design a new revolution for the Vatican administration and to advise the pope on other matters.
The head of a powerful pro-German movement, the Central Catholic German Central Committee, or ZdK, said he was “deeply shocked” by the cardinal’s request.
“The wrong person is leaving,” ZdK President Thomas Sternberg told the German newspaper Rheinische Post.
ZdK has been participating in Synodal Path meetings for over a year with the German Bishops’ Conference. Meetings. expected to be concluded in the fall, there have been discussions about allowing priests to marry, ordination of women and a different understanding of sexuality, among other changes. This process was introduced as part of the response to the creation of sexual harassment of educators.
The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Limburg Georg Baetzing, has expressed his respect for Marx’s decision.
“His resignation is a clear indication that the German church must continue with the Synodal Path,” Baetzing said in a written statement. “The Synodal Path is designed to look for systematic answers to this problem. The basic, doctrinal discourses that determine the Synod Path are therefore an important and vital part of this process. ”
Some cardinals and archbishops have previously offered to resign due to direct involvement in trauma-related failures, only to see Francis stay in the decision for a while.
French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said he would resign in 2019 after a French court convicted him of failing to report on a pastor in charge of children. Francis refused to accept his resignation pending the outcome of Barbarin’s appeal, although he finally did so the following year, at which time Barbarin was released.
Francis has allowed Australian Cardinal George Pell, his finance minister, to take an extra leave in 2017 to return home to face the old sexual harassment charge. Pell’s beliefs were overturned by the Australian Supreme Court last year, but at the time, Pell was still a year old ashamed of his retirement age and Francis had already appointed a successor.