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Citing 'systemic failures' in handling abuse, cardinal offers resignation

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Update: Pope denies cardinal's request to resign, agrees 'we have sinned'

VATICAN CITY — German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, 67, has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, saying that bishops must begin to accept responsibility for the institutional failures of the church in handling the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

Cardinal Marx released a statement June 4 and, with the pope's permission, a copy of the letter dated May 21 in which he told the pope: "It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse perpetrated by representatives of the church over the past decades."

Pope Francis did not immediately accept the cardinal's resignation. In his statement, the cardinal said Pope Francis asked him to continue his ministry as archbishop "until his decision is made."

In his letter to the pope, Cardinal Marx said that "the investigations and reports of the last 10 years have consistently shown that there have been many personal failures and administrative mistakes" in handling abuse allegations, "but also institutional or 'systemic' failures."

But, he said, "some members of the church refuse to believe that there is a shared responsibility in this respect and that the church as an institution is hence also to be blamed for what has happened."

Those same people, the cardinal said, "therefore disapprove of discussing reforms and renewal in the context of the sexual abuse crisis."

Cardinal Marx, who is still more than seven years away from the normal retirement age for bishops, is the past president of the German bishops' conference and is one of the main proponents of the German church's "Synodal Path" process of consultation, prayer and discussion about necessary reforms in the church. The process has been controversial because of some of the ideas being debated in connection with power, sexual morality, priesthood and the role of women in the church.

The cardinal is also a member of Pope Francis' international advisory Council of Cardinals and is coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy.

In his statement June 4, Cardinal Marx said the clerical abuse crisis obviously requires improved oversight and administrative systems, but even more it shows the need for "a renewed form of the church and a new way to live and proclaim faith today."

Investigating how allegations were handled in the past and holding to account bishops who failed to act promptly and appropriately is important, the cardinal said, but it is not enough.

"As a bishop I have an 'institutional responsibility' for the acts of the church in its entirety as well as for its institutional problems and failures in the past," he wrote. "And have I not helped to foster negative forms of clericalism by my own behavior and the false concerns about the church's reputation?"

Above all, he said, church leaders must ask themselves if the focus really is on survivors and others impacted by sexual abuse.

"With my resignation I would like to make clear that I am willing to personally bear responsibility not only for any mistakes I might have made but for the church as an institution which I have helped to shape and mold over the past decades," the cardinal said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021