German bishop offers to quit over church's abuse 'failure'

Berlin, Germany: One of Germany's leading Catholic bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, said Friday he had offered Pope Francis his resignation over the church's "institutional and systemic failure" in its handling of child sex abuse scandals.

"It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades," said Marx in a letter to the pope dated May 21 and published Friday by his archdiocese in Munich.

Investigations and reports had "consistently shown there have been many personal failures and administrative mistakes but also an institutional or 'systemic' failure," added Marx, who was president of the German Bishops' Conference from 2012 to 2020.

Slamming colleagues who "refuse to believe there is a shared responsibility in this respect", he said the Church was at "a dead-end".

He added that he hoped his resignation would offer a new beginning for the Church.

According to the diocese's statement, the pope had granted permission for the letter to be published and told Marx to remain in his role until he received an answer.


Germany's Catholic church has been rocked by a string of reports in recent years that have laid bare the extent of sexual abuse of children by clergymen.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference under Marx's presidency and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some type of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

However, its authors said the actual number of victims was almost certainly much higher.

Another report published in March exposed the scope of abuse committed by priests in Germany's top diocese in Cologne.

Cologne bishop Rainer Maria Woelki, an arch-conservative, faced months of public criticism after he refused last year to allow the publication of an initial study.

He later commissioned the second report, which revealed that 314 minors, mostly boys under the age of 14, were sexually abused between 1975 and 2018 in the western city.

The report led Stefan Hesse, the Archbishop of Hamburg and previously a clergyman in Cologne, to offer his resignation.

Last month, the Pope sent two envoys to Cologne to investigate "possible mistakes" made by Cardinal Woelki.

Prominent reformer 

Known as a prominent advocate for change, Marx has clashed with both the Vatican and more conservative German clerics such as Woelki over attempts to reform the Church.

Following the 2018 report, he apologized on behalf of the Church to the victims of sexual abuse.

In April, he turned down the Federal Cross of Merit amid criticism from victims' groups over the Church's response to the scandals.

At a Vatican summit on child sex abuse scandals in 2019, the Munich archbishop was a leading voice in calls for the Church to be more transparent.

Yet the Vatican has also been critical of Germany's "synodal path", a series of reform consultations initiated by Marx to reevaluate issues such as celibacy in the clergy, married priests, and a greater role for lay people and women in the Church.

Germany's Catholic Church counted 22.6 million members in 2019 and it is still the largest religion in the country, but the number is two million fewer than in 2010 when the first major wave of pedophile abuse cases came to light.

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