German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has admitted that confronting the legacy of clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Catholic Church can only happen when “systemic questions” are posed to the institution and its hierarchy.
Two months ago, a report commissioned by Cardinal Marx, as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, documented almost 500 cases of child and youth sexual abuse and at least 235 perpetrators in the archdiocese in the post-war decades – the actual number probably being much higher.
“Through this discussion, the whole system is called into question, from its foundations,” the cardinal said during a public event in Munich with victims of abuse Monday evening.
In 2010 he commissioned – but did not publish – a first report on clerical abuse in his diocese, a bulwark of German Catholicism. Now, 12 years later, he says he sees the problem “even more radically” and says he has finally understood “that we have to dig deeper”.
“We have to look deeper, that we are all connected to each other in this system,” he added.
The January report triggered a real earthquake in Munich, with at least 7,000 people asking to leave the Catholic Church.
Survivors at Monday night’s event in Munich said they were optimistic that – some 12 years after the first wave of religious sex abuse revelations in Germany – one of the top Catholic clerics in ermany has finally understood the extent of the problem.
Reinhard Kick, who was abused by a priest and is now a Survivor representative in the archdiocese, said he was “cautiously optimistic” Survivors are finally making progress.
“I wrote letters to Marx for 10 years, begging letters, asking for help, and got nothing,” Mr. Kick said. “On Monday, I said to him, ‘Now I’m here to help you.'”
The Archdiocese of Munich has promised to take a proactive approach to victims of abuse, rather than waiting to be approached. Officials have agreed to address outstanding financial concerns regarding compensation and unpaid therapy costs. From June, the church in Munich will have a dedicated priest and support team for survivors and their concerns, as well as a program to help priests who have been abused themselves.
But Cardinal Marx has yet to respond to a key accusation in the Munich abuse report: that Pope Emeritus Benedict, during his four years as Archbishop of Munich until 1982, knew of abusing priests in his archdiocese.
In a statement last month, the 94-year-old expressed his “deep shame” at the abuse that occurred while he held leadership positions within the church. Responding to four cases reported by investigators, the former pope said he had no knowledge and therefore no responsibility. He also denied attending a meeting where an abusive priest was discussed, which he later corrected as an error.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, his personal secretary, has now admitted it was a “serious oversight”.
“But it’s going too far to accuse him of lying; it hit him hard,” he told Die Zeit Weekly, insisting the meeting did not go into detail about the priest’s case. “None of the claims stood up to close scrutiny of the records; they no longer become true through repetition.
Instead, Archbishop Gänswein accused the legal team of asking “leading” questions, which “did not always differentiate between hypothesis, assertion and fact”, resulting in “biased reporting” on the case. His lawyers accused Munich investigators of relying on “second-hand rumors and gossip” to back up the allegations.
Cardinal Marx has yet to say publicly whether he believes the former pope, but said he had “no reason to doubt” the work of the lawyers he commissioned or their conclusions.
In recent months, the Munich cardinal has become an influential and progressive voice in an ongoing reform debate within the German Catholic Church. In mid-March, he celebrated a mass with members of Munich’s main LGBT community and criticized the continued discrimination against same-sex couples within the church.
“All human relationships must be marked by the primacy of love, then they can be accepted by God,” he said. Acknowledging Catholic teaching, which views same-sex behavior as “inherently disordered,” he added, “As a bishop, I cannot question the primacy of love.”