Cardinal Marx will not seek re-election as head of German bishops' conference

marx 2015 Cardinal Reinhard Marx. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Cardinal Reinhard Marx has notified German bishops that he will not stand to be elected to a second term as head of the German bishops' conference.

Marx, who is 66 and the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, one of Germany's largest local churches, cited his age and his desire to spend more time in his archdiocese as the reasons.

The cardinal was elected to lead the German bishops in 2014. If he had been elected to second term, the cardinal would have been 72 at the conclusion of his service to the bishops' conference.

The Church in Germany, which is largely funded through a tax collected by the German government, coordinates a considerable amount of its activity through the bishops' conference. The head of the bishops' conference is usually regarded as the de facto leader of the Church in the country, and Marx has taken an active role as a liaison between German bishops and the Vatican.

The conference is now central to organizing a two-year "synodal way," a process by which laity and bishops are deliberating about the future of the Church in Germany, and taking up controversial issues, including the Church's doctrine regarding sexuality. Aspects of that process have been the subject of considerable criticism by Vatican figures, including Pope Francis.

Marx' tenure as head of the German bishops' conference has been marked by controversy, with the cardinal embroiled in controversy about the possibility of liturgical blessings for same-sex couples and comments about the role and ordination of women.

The German bishops will elect a new leader at their general assembly in early March. Marx, who has said he will remain active in the conference, has suggested that "it should be the turn of the younger generation" to lead the Church in Germany.

Catholic practice is on the decline in Germany: while there are more than 23 million Catholics in the country, only about 10% are estimated to attend Mass regularly. In 1995, nearly 20% of Catholic in the country reported regularly attending Mass.

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