Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most senior Catholics, has offered his resignation to the pope over the “catastrophe” of sexual abuse by clerics and other church members.
Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising and a prominent liberal, said in a letter to Pope Francis that he wanted to share responsibility for the abuse that had taken place over decades and the failure of the church to deal with it.
He said the church had reached a “dead end” and his resignation was a way of helping to indicate the possibility of a new start.
“I have to share responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by officials of the church over past decades,” he wrote in the letter, which was sent on 21 May and was published on the archdiocese’s website on Friday after Francis gave permission.
After years during which the Catholic church was accused of cover-up and of ignoring requests for help from people claiming they had been the victims of clergymen and other church members, a report commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference when Marx was its president was finally published in 2018. It said that between 1946 and 2014 almost 1,700 clergymen had sexually abused at least 3,677 minors, the majority of them boys. The report said the true number of victims was likely to have been far higher.
The outrage over the findings and anger among Catholics over the church’s apparent inaction has triggered the departure of thousands of Germans from the faith, Germany’s largest religion with around 22.6 million members in 2019.
Last month Francis sent two envoys, the bishops of Stockholm and Rotterdam, to the diocese of Cologne to investigate what were referred to as “possible mistakes” in the church’s handling of the allegations.
The wrath of those who have left the church – from across Germany, though the majority of them are from the Cologne diocese – has been directed not so much at Marx as at Cologne’s cardinal, Rainer Maria Wölki, who was heavily criticised this year for refusing to release the report. He said his reluctance to do so was based on what he referred to as methodological shortcomings.
Coverage of the crisis has led to calls for widespread reform as well as greater scrutiny of the way the church operates.
In his letter, Marx criticised the way past investigations had been carried out and how reports had been handled, saying they indicated that there had been “a lot of personal failure and administrative errors” as well as “institutional and systemic failure” in the church.
Calling his decision a personal one, he added: “I would like to make it clear that I am ready to take personal responsibility, not only for my own mistakes but for the church as an institution which I have helped to shape over the decades.”
Marx had apologised to victims of sexual abuse in the past. In April he turned down the Federal Cross of Merit in acknowledgement of victims’ groups anger over what they viewed as the church’s inadequate response to the claims.
In a press release, the Munich archdiocese said Francis had allowed Marx to make the letter public and had urged him to remain in his role until he had received an answer.