German Cardinal Marx submits resignation to Pope…

A colleague in Germany prepared the following last evening on Cardinal Marx’s letter of resignation:

(Background note: Cardinal Marx is one of those cardinals on the advice panel which the Pope summoned at the beginning of his pontificate. He is a reformer and one of the initiators of the Synodal Path which is taking place here at the moment. The reaction to his request is one of shock, disappointment, but also respect. In a sense his request can also be interpreted as a confrontation with his episcopal brothers who are not willing to push reforms through. Cardinal Woelki of Cologne is seen by many commentators to be one of the addressees of his request to give up his office. Cardinal Woelki has said that he respects the decision of Card. Marx but does not seem to want to go that way himself apart from having asked the Pope in December to decide on what he should do.) 

Today the archdiocese of Munich and Freising has made a letter public in which the Archbishop Cardinal Reinhard Marx wrote to the Pope on May 21st asking him to accept his resignation as Archbishop of the archdiocese. The reason he gives for this request is that he feels he must take on his share of personal “responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by Church officials in the past decades.” “I feel my personal guilt and co-responsibility also through silence, omissions and too much focus on the reputation of the institution.”

It has hit the top news in this country (Germany) today. It is not yet known how the Pope will finally react to this request. For the moment he has asked the Cardinal to continue in his office. Cardinal Marx has said that he would like to continue working in a pastoral setting but is leaving it up to the Pope to decide.

This is indeed major news because the Vatican is sending Visitators to the archdiocese of Cologne (starts on Monday) where there is a lot of unrest and many priests and laity are calling for the resignation of the archbishop there, Cardinal Woelki.

Here is a rough and quick translation of the letter which Cardinal Marx wrote to the Pope:

“Holy Father, there is no doubt that the Church in Germany is going through times of crisis. Of course there are many reasons for this – also beyond Germany worldwide – which I do not need to go into in detail here. But the crisis is also caused by our own failure, by our guilt. This becomes increasingly clear to me when I look at the Catholic Church as a whole, not only today but also in the past decades.

We are – so my impression – at a certain “dead point”, but which can also, this is my Easter hope, become a “turning point”. The “Easter faith” also applies to us bishops in our pastoral care: Whoever wants to win his life will lose it; whoever loses it will win it! Since last year I have been thinking more intensively about what this also means for me personally and – encouraged by the Easter season – I have come to the decision to ask you to accept my renunciation of the office of Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

In essence, for me it is about sharing responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by Church officials in the past decades. The investigations and expert reports of the last ten years have consistently shown me that there was a lot of personal failure and administrative error, but also institutional or “systemic” failure.

Recent discussions have shown that some in the Church do not want to accept this element of co-responsibility and thus also shared blame of the institution and therefore reject any dialogue on reform and renewal in connection with the abuse crisis. I take a decidedly different view. Both must remain in view: personally responsible mistakes and the institutional failure that challenges changes and reform of the church.

In my view, a turning point out of this crisis can only be a “synodal way”, a way that really enables the “discernment of spirits”, as you have repeatedly emphasised and underlined in your letter to the Church in Germany. I have been a priest for forty-two years and a bishop for almost twenty-five years, twenty of them as an ordinarius of a large diocese. And I feel painfully how much the reputation of bishops has declined in the ecclesiastical and secular perception, and has possibly reached a low point.

In order to take responsibility, it is therefore not enough, in my view, to react only and only when individual responsible persons are shown from the files to have made mistakes and omissions, but to make it clear that we as bishops also stand for the institution of the Church as a whole. It is also not acceptable to simply link the grievances largely to the past and the ministers of the time and thus “bury” them. In any case, I feel my personal guilt and co-responsibility also through silence, omissions and too much focus on the reputation of the institution.

Only after 2002 and then increasingly since 2010 have the victims of sexual abuse been more consistently brought into focus, and this change of perspective has not yet reached its goal. The overlooking and disregarding of the victims have certainly been our greatest fault in the past. After the MHG study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference, I said in the cathedral in Munich that we have failed. But who is this “we”? Surely, I am part of it. And that then means that I also have to draw personal consequences. That is becoming clearer and clearer to me.

I believe that one way of expressing this willingness to take responsibility is to resign from office. In this way, I can perhaps set a personal sign for new beginnings, for a new departure of the Church, not only in Germany. I want to show that it is not the office that is in the foreground, but the mission of the Gospel. That, too, is part of pastoral care.

I therefore ask you very much to accept this renunciation. I continue to enjoy being a priest and bishop of this church and will continue to engage myself pastorally wherever you deem it meaningful and good. I would like to devote the next years of my ministry more to pastoral care and to work for a spiritual renewal of the Church, as you tirelessly call for.”


The following link is to a report of the issue from the Vatican News:



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One Comment

  1. George Reilly says:

    In a spoken statement to the media he gave on Friday Cardinal Marx said he wants the submission of his resignation to be understood as a “personal signal for a new beginning, for a new awakening of the Church, not only in Germany.” Cardinal Woelki, Cologne, who is under strong pressure to resign his office because of his handling of a report on the involvement of the diocesan authorities in the sexual abuse scandal, wants to wait until the issue of Church reform is discussed at the coming synod of bishops (October 2021- October 2023).

    Woelki is strongly opposed to the Synodal Path which was initiated here by Cardinal Marx and the lay organisation The Central Committee of German Catholics. This Synodal Path is pushing for radical reforms. The present chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Bätzing (Limburg), who succeeded Cardinal Marx as chairman, when interviewed about Cardinal Marx resignation stated on Friday that fundamental reforms must take place. He mentioned two explicitly: the issue of celibacy for priests and the equality for women at all levels in the Church. He refuses to accept Cardinal Woelki’s opinion that the course that is being taken by the German Synodal Path could lead to a schism in the Church. Not that the Synodal Path has taken any decisions yet.

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