‘There was no real interest in their suffering’: Cardinal Marx apologizes to victims after Munich abuse report

Cardinal Reinhard Marx speaks at a press conference in Munich, Germany, Jan. 27, 2022 Cardinal Reinhard Marx speaks at a press conference in Munich, Germany, Jan. 27, 2022. | Screenshot from erzbistum-muenchen.de.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx offered a personal apology to abuse survivors on Thursday, in the wake of a report criticizing the handling of cases in his archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

Speaking at a live-streamed press conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Jan. 27, the 68-year-old cardinal said that the treatment of victims was “inexcusable,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“I am attributed responsibility in this report and I am prepared to take responsibility. Last year I wrote to Pope Francis, and I have also stated elsewhere before, that for me the greatest guilt is to have overlooked those affected. That is inexcusable,” he said.

“There was no real interest in their fate, in their suffering. In my opinion, this is also due to systemic reasons, and at the same time I bear moral responsibility for this as acting archbishop.”

He went on: “Therefore, first of all, I apologize once again personally and also on behalf of the archdiocese to you as those affected for what you have suffered in the sphere of the Church.”

“I also apologize to the faithful in this archdiocese who doubt the Church, who can no longer trust those responsible and whose faith has been damaged.”

The more than 1,000-page report, issued on Jan. 20, accused Marx, one of Germany’s most influential churchmen, of mishandling two abuse cases.

Marx is a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and the coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy. Until 2020, he served as the chairman of the German bishops’ conference.

Marx wrote to Pope Francis in May 2021, offering to resign amid the fallout from the clerical abuse crisis in Germany. The pope declined his resignation in June of that year.

The cardinal told reporters that he intended to remain in office for now, but did not rule out seeking to resign for a second time.

“For me personally, I say once again clearly: As archbishop, I bear responsibility for the actions of the archdiocese according to my moral conviction and in my understanding of my office. I do not cling to my office,” he commented.

“The offer of resignation last year was meant very seriously. Pope Francis decided otherwise and asked me to continue my ministry responsibly. I am ready to continue my ministry if it is helpful for the further steps that need to be taken for a more reliable reappraisal, an even stronger attention to those affected and for a reform of the Church.”

“If I get the impression that I am more of an obstacle than a help, I will seek dialogue with the relevant advisory bodies and allow myself to be critically questioned. In a synodal church, I will no longer make this decision on my own.”

Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, the law firm that produced the study, presented the report’s conclusions at a press conference in Munich.

Marx was not present at the event and Marion Westpfahl, a founding partner of the firm, lamented the cardinal’s absence as she presented the report.

In a brief statement hours after the report’s publication, Marx said that he was “shocked and ashamed” at its findings.

The authors of the “Report on the Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults by Clerics, as well as [other] Employees, in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945 to 2019” also accused Pope emeritus Benedict XVI of mishandling four cases during his tenure as Munich archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

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The 94-year-old retired pope, who strongly denies cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to investigators compiling the report.

Addressing the report’s criticisms of his own actions, Marx said he felt it was inappropriate to offer defensive arguments, but promised to examine the cases carefully with experts.

“Not to defend myself,” he said, “but to learn from them and to implement changes. I also see administrative and communicative failures here. But in one case I blame myself for not really actively approaching those affected.”

In April 2021, Marx 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.

He had been scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin.

Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2007, said that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a member of the affected persons’ advisory board of Cologne archdiocese, had urged the president to withhold the honor, citing Marx’s handling of cases when he was bishop of Trier in 2001–2007.

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The official web portal of the Catholic Church in Germany reported in June 2021 that Marx’s actions in Trier would be “comprehensively investigated” by an independent commission on behalf of the diocese that has been led by Bishop Stephan Ackermann since 2009.

Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Marx highlighted the German Church’s “Synodal Way,” a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss power, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women in the Church.

He said that “it is now important to push ahead with the reform steps as discussed in the Synodal Way and as they will also be put on the agenda in the synodal process in the worldwide Church. I want to remain committed to this. For without a truly profound renewal, reappraisal will ultimately not succeed.”

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