BERLIN – When Germany's most prominent Catholic leader offered his resignation to Pope Francis, citing his role in the "catastrophe of sexual abuse by church officials," he surprised many people.
"I feel that through remaining silent, neglecting to act, and over-focusing on the reputation of the Church, I have made myself personally guilty and responsible," Cardinal Reinhard Marx wrote to Francis in a lengthy letter published June 4.
The Washington Post commented, "Marx's offer was unusually public and self-reflective, given the opaque manner in which Catholic prelates usually step down."
"Still, the offer by itself represents the most significant fallout to date from investigations of abuse within in the German Catholic Church," the Post reporter commented.
Marx said the Pope is still considering his resignation and that he will continue to fulfill his duties as the Archbishop of Munich and Freissing.
Marx wrote, "My impression is that we are at a dead end which — and this is my paschal hope — also has the potential of becoming a turning point."
The Catholic Church and other religious, international, and societal institutions have long been plagued by not being able to solve abuse scandals in a manner that brings justice and closure to victims.
ADVISER TO POPE FRANCIS
The 67-year-old cardinal is an adviser to Pope Francis and is a former president of the German Catholic Bishop's Conference and said he had been considering resignation for the past year.
About a quarter of Germany's 83 million population are registered as Roman Catholics.
In recent months officials said there have been a spate of German Catholics turning their backs on the church due to its handling of sexual abuse cases.
Marx had gained notice for his forthright comments on social issues over two decades.
Marx had gained notice for his forthright comments on social issues and at times his criticism of the government on socio-ethical issues over two decades.
"In essence, it is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by church officials over the past decades. . . I feel that, through remaining silent, neglecting to act, and over-focusing on the reputation of the Church, I have made myself personally guilty and responsible."
Marx wrote that the Roman Church in Germany has been in crisis since 2010 over a series of sexual abuse scandals exacerbated by cover-ups and inadequate investigations.
"The investigations and reports of the last ten years have consistently shown that there have been many personal failures and administrative mistakes, but also institutional or systemic failure," said Marx.
Pope Francis has sent two bishops to Cologne to investigate abuse cases, the BBC reported.
In 2018, a study commissioned by the church found that more than 3,600 children in Germany had been sexually assaulted by Roman Catholic priests between 1946 and 2014.
Only 38 percent of the alleged perpetrators were prosecuted, with most facing only minor disciplinary procedures. About one in six cases involved rape. Most of the victims were boys, and more than half were aged 13 or younger.
REJECTING SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
"The recent debates have shown that 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, and therefore disapprove of discussing reforms and renewal in the context of the sexual-abuse crisis," said the cardinal.
Analysts believe he was especially referring to the handling by Cologne's Cardinal Woelki of sexual abuse in his diocese and has received criticism for covering up wrongdoings.
Marx serves on Pope Francis's Council of Cardinals, known as the C9 advisory council.
"It is an impressive step that finally a bishop in Germany speaks in the first person and takes responsibility," Matthias Katsch, a spokesperson for German victims' association Eckiger Tisch, said in a statement.
Marx wrote, "We as bishops have to make clear that we also represent the institution of the Church as a whole."
He said it is wrong to "simply link these problems largely to past times and former Church officials, thereby 'burying' what happened."
"Only after 2002 and even more since 2010, those affected by sexual abuse have been brought to the fore more consequently, and this change of perspective has not yet been completed," he said.
"Overlooking and disregarding the victims was certainly our greatest fault of the past."
The president of the lay-led Central Committee of German Catholics said its members were deeply shaken.
"The wrong one is leaving," Thomas Sternberg told the regional newspaper Rheinische Post. If the pope accepts the cardinal's resignation, he said, then an important personality in German Catholicism would be lost, Catholic News Service reported.
A representatives of a victims' group expressed respect for Cardinal Marx's action.