Prominent German Cardinal Offers to Resign Over Church Sexual Abuse

BERLIN — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a leading figure in Germany’s Roman Catholic Church, has offered his resignation to Pope Francis as an act of personal responsibility for sexual abuses by priests over the past decades, the archdiocese of Munich and Freising said Friday.

In a letter sent to the Vatican on May 21, the cardinal said he believed Catholics were at a “dead end” over the decades of abuses that have come to light in Germany since 2002 and that the current state of affairs could only be overcome by members of the Church taking responsibility for the abuses and efforts to cover them up.

“I believe one possibility to express this willingness to take over responsibility is my resignation. In doing so, I may be able to send a personal signal for a new beginning, for a new awakening of the Church, not only in Germany,” the cardinal wrote in his letter, which was released by his archdiocese. “I would like to show that it is not the institution that stands in the foreground, but the mission of the Gospel.”

He added: “I therefore strongly request you to accept this resignation.”

Cardinal Marx’s archdiocese, which was once led by Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, said Francis had agreed to allow the cardinal to make the letter public but had asked that he continue to carry out his duties until he reached a decision. The Vatican had no further comment on Friday.

The cardinal’s offer to resign comes at a time when the pope is doubling down on his view that the sexual abuse crisis is primarily a consequence of imbalances in power dynamics between clerics and other church leaders and those entrusted to their care, regardless of their age.

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that Francis had made changes to the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law, the legal framework for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, after years of consultations.

As head of the German Bishops Conference, a post he held from 2014 to 2020, Cardinal Marx led a push for wider discussion about reforms within the Church, including reconsidering issues like mandatory celibacy for priests.

The cardinal stressed his view that sharing responsibility for what he called “the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over past decades” also meant a willingness to discuss “reforms and renewal in the context of the sexual abuse crisis.”

The cardinal is a particularly influential figure in the global church: He has served as a member of Francis’ small advisory council.

The sexual abuse crisis exploded in Germany in 2010, when former students of a Berlin high school, Canisius College, said teachers abused them in the 1970s and 1980s. The crisis deepened in 2016, after an investigator said more than 200 boys in a choir led by the brother of Benedict XVI were abused over almost four decades.

Last week, the Vatican dispatched two senior bishops to the archdiocese of Cologne, Germany’s largest and one of the most powerful in the global church, to investigate the archbishop’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests going back to 1975.

Cologne’s archbishop, Rainer Maria Woelki, commissioned a lawyer to conduct an independent review of how the Catholic Church handled reports of abuse, only to shelve it over what he called methodological shortcomings. A second report found decades of “systematic cover-up” at the hands of church officials in the archdiocese, including Stefan Hesse, who is now the archbishop of Hamburg.

Archbishop Hesse offered his resignation to the pope in March and has since been on leave from his duties.

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