An open letter to Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Your Eminence, the German Church — the Catholicism of my ancestors — is dying.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, president of the German bishops' conference. (CNS photo/Sascha Steinbach, EPA)

Your Eminence:

I noted with interest your recent announcement of a “binding synodal process” during which the Church in Germany will discuss the celibacy of the Latin-rite Catholic priesthood, the Church’s sexual ethic and clericalism, these being “issues” put on the table by the crisis of clerical sexual abuse.

Perhaps the following questions will help sharpen your discussions.

1) How can the “synodal process” of a local Church produce “binding” results on matters affecting the entire Catholic Church? The Anglican Communion tried this and is now in terminal disarray; the local Anglican churches that took the path of cultural accommodation are comatose. Is this the model you and your fellow-bishops favor?

2) What does the celibacy of priests in the Latin-rite have to do with the sexual abuse crisis? Celibacy has no more to do with sexual abuse than marriage has to do with spousal abuse. Empirical studies indicate that most sexual abuse of the young takes place within (typically broken) families; Protestant denominations with a married clergy also suffer from the scourge of sexual abuse; and in any event, marriage is not a crime-prevention program. Is it cynical to imagine that the abuse crisis is now being weaponized to mount an assault on clerical celibacy, what with other artillery having failed to dislodge this ancient Catholic tradition?

3) According to a Catholic News Agency report, you suggested that “the significance of sexuality to personhood has not yet received sufficient attention from the Church.” Really? Has St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body not been translated into German? Perhaps it has, but it may be too long and complex to have been properly absorbed by German-speaking Catholics. Permit me then, to draw your attention to pp. 347-358 of Zeuge der Hoffnung (Ferdinand Schoeningh, 2002) the German translation of Witness to Hope, the first volume of my John Paul II biography. There, you and your colleagues will find a summary of the Theology of the Body, including its richly personalistic explanation of the Church’s ethic of human love and its biblically-rooted understanding of celibacy undertaken for the Kingdom of God.

4) You also note that your fellow-bishops “feel…unable to speak on questions of present-day sexual behavior.” That was certainly not the case at the Synods of 2014, 2015, and 2018, where German bishops felt quite able to speak frequently to these questions, albeit in a way that typically mirrored today’s politically-correct fashions. And I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering just when the German episcopate last spoke to “present-day sexual behavior” in a way that promoted the Church’s ethic of human love as life-affirming and ordered to human happiness and fulfillment, at least in the years since its massive dissent from Humanae Vitae (Pope St. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the ethics of family planning)? But that, as I understand Pope Francis, is what he is calling us all to do: Witness to, preach, and teach the “Yes” that undergirds everything to which the Church must, in fidelity to both revelation and reason, say “No.”

5) The CNA report also noted that your “synodal process” (which, in a nice tip of the miter to Hegel, you described as a “synodal progression”) would involve consultations with the Central Committee of German Catholics. My dear Cardinal Marx, this is rather like President Trump consulting with Fox News or Speaker Pelosi consulting with the editors of the New York Times. If you’ll pardon the reference to Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca, even we blundering Americans know that the ZdK, the Zentralkomitee der Deutschen Katholiken, is the schwerpunkt, the spearhead that clears the ground to the far left so that the German bishops can position themselves as the “moderate” or “centrist” force in the German Church. You know, and I know, and everyone else should know that consultations with the ZdK will produce nothing but further attacks on celibacy, further affirmations of current sexual fads, and further deprecations of Humane Vitae (based, in part, on the ZdK’s evident ignorance of the Theology of the Body and German hostility to John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical on the renovation of Catholic moral theology, Veritatis Splendor).

Your Eminence, the German Church — the Catholicism of my ancestors — is dying. It will not be revitalized by becoming a simulacrum of moribund liberal Protestantism.

I wish you a fruitful Lent and a joyful Easter.


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About George Weigel 215 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). He is the recipient of eighteen honorary doctorates in fields including divinity, philosophy, law, and social science.

26 Comments

  1. Marx and Francis continue to do the plan of the McCarrick Establishment, which serves the will of Anti-Christ.

    As intended by the SEX ABUSER CONCLAVE of 2013, Pope Francis does NOT “hold and teach the Catholic faith, which comes to us from the Apostles.”

  2. I would have written a different letter which goes as follows:
    Your Eminence.
    Since you and several of your Episcopal Colleagues in Germany do not believe in upholding the immutable truths of the Catholic faith, but instead seek to create a whole new religion based on moral relativism, I kindly suggest that you and your like-minded brothers leave the Catholic Church which you despise so much and start your own religion. At least then nobody would be able to accuse you of being dishonest and only staying in office solely to grow fat off the German Church Tax.

    • Or they could join the Anglican Communion, which communes perfectly with modern hedonism which is what they seem to want to do.

    • TAKE YOUR FILTHY LUCRE

      The German Church tax is 8 or 9 percent of the annual income tax. It garners the Catholic Church in Germany about $6 billion a year, while the Protestants, mostly Lutherans, take in slightly more than the Catholics. That’s a lot of money, ladies and gentlemen!

      It’s all this filthy lucre that has destroyed the Catholic Church in Germany. The German bishops should imitate poor Judas and tell their Government to take their 30 pieces of silver and you know the rest….!

      Matthew describes the scene in these words: “When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders…. ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,’ he said…. So Judas threw the silver into the temple and left” (27: 3-5).

      Cardinal Marx, now it’s your move.

  3. He’s the vanguard of a bad lot. He’s worried the German people will not pay the church tax and his frumpiness won’t be able to afford his mansion and the season at Gestad.

  4. A synod (noun) is one thing, a synodal (adjective) Church is something else.

    On a morphed and synodal Church, the German Cardinal Marx falls far short of a Bavarian cardinal and then pope who clarified that even “a Council is only something that the Church DOES, but it is not what the Church IS.”

    And bearing on the German Cardinal Marx and his Hegel connection, it was probably de Maistre (a surely insufficiently-dialectical Frenchman, but also resident in Switzerland, Italy and Russia!) who once observed that “when you pull off the miter, the head comes with it.”

  5. :Your Eminence, the German Church — the Catholicism of my ancestors — is dying. It will not be revitalized by becoming a simulacrum of moribund liberal Protestantism.” I would suggest that it is not just the German Church that is dying—with the possible exception of the Church in Africa, I think the death knell has sounded on every other continent. And this seems to be happening in the blink of an eye.

  6. These men have simply ceased to be Catholic, and I am concerned our Pope has, too, being afraid to discipline. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of which leads to perdition”. Justice is to be tempered with mercy, not trampled on because it is based on a hard teaching. How many disciples left Jesus when the teachings were hard?

    • A very good letter and equally good comments of people who love the Holy Catholic Church. I too, am at times despair, at the charges of sexual abuse by the clergy albeit a small number of them. But as on occasion in the centuries nay millennia past, God has His way of steering His Holy Church out of such depravities. I have the faith that the intrinsic goodness and sanctity will be restored at the time of His choosing. He shall watch his Holy Church

  7. One prime area in which Our Lord encouraged his apostolic leaders to (loose and) “bind” was in regard to man’s life of sin and grace in consideration of each man’s willingness to repent. Jesus did wish that his followers be loosened from overwrought human religious traditions, but this relates only to man’s reliance upon devotions that overcome or prevent mercy; it is not the same as Tradition. Jesus clearly bound his followers to Tradition (Church teaching) by demanding that his followers adhere to the teachers of the Law by “observing what they tell you.” However, this was never an excuse to allow the apostolic office to tell us to do whatever they choose to do, since Jesus in the same lesson told his disciples to “not do what they do”.

  8. Take heart George Weigel there are a brave few of the Elect within the German Hierarchy. They will likely be the nucleus of a Remnant. What transpires now before us is the modal of transformation of the Church planned, engineered, carefully executed according to plan to ‘ease’ change avoiding undo haste and reaction. Cardinal Carlo Martini’s stratagem to catapult Catholicism into an envisioned new paradigm of radical doctrinal revision in the guise of a more compassionate less legalistic form. Likely [my guess not being a Vatican insider simply a wary observer] Fr A Spadaro SJ’s advice [the Pontiff’s ‘brain’ similar to Carl Rove called Bush 43’s brain] a Sicilian from Catania [so not only ethnic Germans weep] to make change seem limited rather than universal. Although the Pontiff declared recently that the Feb Synod’s findings [whatever that means apart from his agenda] are Magisterial. Dr Fastiggi pointed out that Cardinal Gerhard Mueller was highly critical of the Pope’s declaration that Synodal conclusions are conclusive, meaning Magisterial and virtually binding. We all require great faith at this apparent apex moment in Church history. As all prev complaints to the Pontiff were placed in his circular file we can’t realistically expect a meaningful response to your well intended letter. Better to spend our energy imploring our bishops.

    • Although in agreement with Roberto de Mattei it is the Bishops and Cardinals of the Church who are indebted both to Christ and the Pontiff to offer filial correction Laity also in accordance with canon law have a right even duty to address justice with Hierarchy. Thus in principle George Weigel’s letter has value. Furthermore any well written well intended statement from credentialed laity [not to dismiss petitions by ordinary laity] should have salutary effect on the general public.

      • My concern regarding the Pope is so great I lost track of who George Weigel addressed his letter to. O well I suppose Cardinal Marx perceives himself as the pope of Germany anyway. And I’m confidant he makes good use of his own circular file.

    • How can that which contradicts and thus denies The Deposit Of Faith be “Magisterial and binding”.? No validly elected Pope would make such an error in regards to our Catholic Faith and morals as informed by Christ Himself.

  9. The Germans have been undermining Christian unity for over 500 years why stop now.Marx may live long enough to see the fruit of his work. Collapse could be sudden.

  10. Thank you again George Weigel!! for your clear, intelligent and concise expression. In all these days of late I am still surprised that many so called leaders show their very lack of having moved into the powerful and beautiful spiritual experience of true living in our merciful God who gives us so many delightful, abundantly joyful, creative ways to live on earth. And they can’t even see how empty their words are. They are flatlanders and showing it wo well.
    For example how can a morally empty criminal abuser be good marriage prospect???
    She would have to be REALLY DESPERATE. His words are laughable. IT seems the really simple loving people in the pews that I know, are experiencing the truth more than this blundering Mark brother. (Sorry I couldn’t resist.)

  11. As George Weigel was a great admirer of Father Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, he has a track record of less than stellar judgement. Based on this record, his denouncement of Marx will have me looking a little closer at his proposals😀.

    • @Nick McCann, it is one thing to be duped by a crafty sociopath like Maciel (and, as in the case of Weigel, then make a correction of one’s position upon discovering the betrayal of trust) but another thing to willingly embrace a deceiver and corrupter like Marx after being duly warned about his path of destruction, one in plain view. Or perhaps you have no better arguments for addressing Weigel’s points than an ad hominem?

  12. Marx is playing a dangerous game. The laity are bound to obey the bishop only in so far as the bishop is obedient to the Faith. If the bishops won’t be obedient to Scripture, Tradition and the authoritative teachings of the Church as outlined in the Catechism then the laity don’t have to obey them. The bishops will have “binding power” on no one. They don’t realize it, but proposals from bishops like Marx, will eventually result in their total irrelevance. If Church teaching is up for debate then so is the Church’s teaching on the authority of the bishop.

  13. I know there are some issues with the SSPX, but given the crisis in the Church (especially Germany) I wouldn’t blame a German Catholic for choosing to go to an SSPX parish if the other option is the type of “Catholicism” that Cardinal Marx is promoting.

  14. The trick of Card. Marx when he talks about sinodality, is to transform it , translating it ” de facto” for a more secular, still unpronounced, word : Confederation.
    This way, we are again in 16th C. with the old motto ” Cuius regio, eius religio “.
    What really matters is not the name but the content !.
    Of course, a Synod cannot modify the Doctrine of the Catholic Church, but, who cares?.
    Good old Luther will be happy wherever he may be.
    The REFORMER, has already been recently honored in Rome in different ways, including a nice post stamp.

  15. 1)”What does the celibacy of priests in the Latin-rite have to do with the sexual abuse crisis?” Allowing married men to be priests would open up the pool of available candidates to the priesthood to be ordained to holy married men, so the church is not reliant upon only faithful celibate males, but also holy married men. It is supply and demand. It would free the church to weed out the pedophiles, and sexually active homosexual clergy who are causing people to lose faith and doing enormous damage to the church, yet would not leave the church without the sacraments. It is a solution to the clerical abuse caused by sexually active homosexual priests and pedophiles. I would personally would welcome this as a solution.

    The other points made in this article are good, namely objecting to having a synod rule-maker, which seems to be another name for “clique” or small number of handpicked cardinals to change the rules. It is a built-in formula for division since rules are made without the consensus of the whole body of Christ. The Holy Spirit works out of consensus.

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