Cardinal Marx renounces honor from German president after abuse survivors’ criticism

Screenshot 2020 11 20 at 145323 Cardinal Reinhard Marx, pictured in Rome Feb. 24, 2019. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Tuesday that he had asked German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to bestow the Federal Cross of Merit on him after an outcry among advocates for abuse survivors over the award.

The archbishop of Munich and Freising was scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin April 30.

But Marx said April 27 that he wished to withdraw from the event.

In a letter, the 67-year-old cardinal thanked Steinmeier for the “high honor of the award,” which Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-funded international broadcaster, described as equal to a knighthood.

“It is my great request to you not to carry out the award. I am convinced that this is the right step with consideration for those who are obviously offended by the award, and especially with consideration for the survivors [of sexual abuse],” Marx said, according to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Marx, the president of the German bishops’ conference from 2014 to 2020, added that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.

“Of course I do not want to harm the office of the Federal President either,” he said.

He continued: “The criticism that is now being expressed by people who are affected by sexual abuse in the area of ​​the Church, I take very seriously, regardless of the accuracy of the individual statements in open letters and in the media.”

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a member of the Affected Persons Advisory Board of Cologne archdiocese, had urged Steinmeier to withhold the honor in an open letter, reported CNA Deutsch.

He cited Marx’s handling of cases when he was bishop of Trier in 2001–2007.

Bringmann-Henselder said that the honor would call “everything into question for which we fight and work.”

Marx was due to receive the Knight Commander’s Cross (Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern), which Bringmann-Henselder himself received for his work on behalf of abuse survivors.

Bringmann-Henselder said that he would return the decoration if the presentation to Marx went ahead and advised other recipients to do the same.

“Otherwise, everyone who has already been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for their services to the victims of sexualized violence should return it, as it will lose its actual value, the honor of a meritorious activity, when it is awarded to Cardinal Marx,” he wrote.

The open letter, which Bringmann-Henselder said also had the support of other members of the advisory board, continued: “We do not understand how you can award Cardinal Marx the Federal Cross of Merit, a man who is still criticized for not having consistently investigated cases of sexualized violence in his former diocese of Trier and who is accused of covering up cases in that context.”

The letter also stated that as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Marx had so far failed to publish a 2010 report on cases of sexualized violence in the archdiocese.

It said that the report was “not available to the public to this day, in complete contrast to the report of the Archdiocese of Cologne” -- a reference to the 800-page Gercke Report issued by Cologne archdiocese in March.

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Marx did not respond directly to the open letter’s claims about the 2010 report on Tuesday.

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising is reportedly planning to publish a new study documenting cases of sexualized violence between 1945 and 2019.

Marx said he hoped that his decision not to receive the honor would show “that further processing and, if possible, healing in the area of ​​sexual abuse in Church and society remains an important concern for me.”

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