ANALYSIS: If the resignation is accepted by Pope Francis, there is still a lot the German cardinal could do within the Vatican and the Universal Church with the power he will still wield.
VATICAN CITY – The surprise letter of Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s resignation as Archbishop of Munich and Freising last week appeared to be aimed at precipitating – to borrow the words of the World Economic Forum – a “big reset” from the German Church regarding its handling of sexual abuse in the clergy.
But this move has potentially bigger consequences than it appears, spanning both the Vatican and the Universal Church, and with the much contested German Synodal Path serving as the determining factor.
In his May 21 resignation letter to Pope Francis, Cardinal Marx, who came under scrutiny for his handling of abuse cases earlier this year, said investigations and reports of abuses over the past decade had shown “institutional or” systemic failure. ” The Church, he added, had come to a âdead endâ, but also at a time that could turn into a âturning pointâ.
He wrote of the need for a “renewed form of the Church” and a “new beginning” – all of which depended not only on his resignation, but also on the continuation of the synodal path that was born out of the crisis and that he helped create. “I strongly supported the project”, wrote Cardinal Marx, adding almost with a desperate air: “We must continue this path!
Ahead of the publication of a report on sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising this summer, the cardinal used most of his letter to highlight the need to reform the Church’s treatment of sexual abuse cases and prevent such crimes in the future.
And yet this movement similar to the “queen’s sacrifice” is only partial: Cardinal Marx has asked neither to relinquish his red hat, nor his other important responsibilities which are largely based in Rome. âI love being a priest and bishop and I hope I can continue to work for the Church in the future,â he wrote.
If the Pope accepts his resignation as Archbishop, the former president of the German Bishops’ Conference will likely be able to devote more time and energy to these Vatican duties which include being a member of both the Council of Cardinals advising the Pope on the curia and the reform of the Church, and the Council of Economy which oversees the finances of the Holy See.
As a member of the Council of Cardinals, he has spent the last eight years participating in the drafting Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), the new apostolic constitution of the Roman Curia. Publication of the document is imminent, perhaps at the end of this month, and Cardinal Marx would be in an ideal position to oversee its implementation.
His resignation would also leave him free to be selected for one of the many leadership positions of the Roman Curia that will become vacant in the coming months. The Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for Bishops are two of the most likely to need new prefects soon. If chosen for a Vatican post, Cardinal Marx, at 67, could potentially spend the next eight to 13 years expanding his influence in Rome.
Cardinal Marx’s authority also extends beyond Germany and the Vatican. He has the support of like-minded bishops in other parts of the world, including the United States, and Europe from 2012 to 2018, he gained considerable influence as Chairman of COMECE – the commission of the episcopal conferences of the European Community.
In the words of a Church source in Germany, Cardinal Marx continues to “have the power of 30 to 40 cardinals.”
Consolidating such influence would put the cardinal in a position of command not only to help pressure the Pope and Vatican officials to support his and others’ plans for the synodal path, but also to implement those plans. reforms at the next two-year Vatican Synod on Synodality. – âFor a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.
The “German program” for reform, which critics say may sink into schism, has not gone as well as Cardinal Marx and others might have hoped. Their plans, for example, to allow the blessings of same-sex unions, the ordination of women, and the end of clerical celibacy have remained unsatisfied or permanently excluded. âCardinal Marx can see the project plunging into a brick wall,â a Church source in Germany told the Register.
Hence, it seems, the urgency and unprecedented character of this letter of resignation – a letter which, unlike other episcopal resignation letters, has not been kept private but published with permission. du Pape, translated into several languages ââand was widely publicized.
Another key aspect of the cardinal’s decision could concern his fellow German bishop, Cardinal Rainer Woelki. As the most prominent critic of the Synodal Path, Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, continues to oppose the project and has faced concerted media and episcopal opposition.
Cardinal Marx’s offer to resign thus immediately increased the pressure on Cardinal Woelki, whose archdiocese is the subject of an apostolic visit by order of Pope Francis, to do the same, with German and Italian media reporting of this possibility, even though it has recently been cleared of wrongdoing in handling abuse cases in Cologne. Removing him from the board would also serve to neutralize other lesser opponents, such as Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau. Cardinal Woelki quickly rejected the submission of his resignation, promising that his diocese “would live up to Jesus’ mission to protect the weak and prevent abuse.”
Whatever the possible consequences of Cardinal Marx’s sudden request to relinquish his episcopal functions in Germany, the stakes seem greater than the situation of sexual abuse committed in the country. For the cardinal, his supporters and their plans to change the Church, this seems like another crisis they cannot afford to let go.