Munich, Germany, Jan 20, 2022 / 09:20 am (CNA).
Cardinal Reinhard Marx said on Thursday that he was “shocked and ashamed” at the findings of a report criticizing the handling of abuse cases in his Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
Investigators claimed that Marx, who has led the archdiocese since 2007, failed to support victims and report the cases to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In a statement hours after the report’s publication, Marx did not respond directly to the criticisms.
He said: “My first thought today is for those affected by sexual abuse, who have experienced harm and suffering at the hands of Church representatives, priests, and other employees in the sphere of the Church, on an appalling scale. I am shocked and ashamed.”
Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), the Munich law firm that produced the study, presented the conclusions of the more than 1,000-page text at a live-streamed press conference.
Marx was not present at the event. Marion Westpfahl, a founding partner of the firm, lamented the cardinal’s absence as she presented the report.
The authors of the “Report on the Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults by Clerics, as well as [other] Employees, in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945 to 2019” also accused Pope emeritus Benedict XVI of mishandling four cases during his tenure as Munich archbishop from 1977 to 1982.
The 94-year-old retired pope, who strongly denies cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to investigators compiling the report.
CNA Deutsch reported that lawyer Martin Pusch, one of the authors, said that Marx had emphasized that the main responsibility for handling abuse cases fell to the archdiocese’s ordinariate and vicariate general.
He said that the cardinal observed that he was primarily responsible for the “proclamation of the Word of God” but felt a “moral responsibility” regarding the cases.
Pusch questioned Marx’s position, saying: “When, if not in the case of the sexual abuse of minors, is the classification of an issue as a ‘matter for the boss’ applicable?”
“All the more so when the relevant regulations assign a central role to the diocesan bishop. That Cardinal Archbishop Marx would have assumed this was not for us to determine.”
Marx is a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and the coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy. Until 2020, he served as the chairman of the German bishops’ conference.
Westpfahl Spilker Wastl produced a report on the Munich archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases in 2010, which has never been published. It announced a delay in the publication of the new report in November 2021, citing “new findings obtained in the recent past” that required an “intensive review.”
In his statement, the cardinal said: “We have known for years that sexual abuse in the Church was not taken seriously, that the perpetrators were often not held accountable in the right way, that those responsible looked the other way.”
“This is precisely why, since the first expert report we commissioned in 2010, we have commissioned the expert report presented today from the law firm WSW. It is an important and indispensable building block for the processing of cases of sexual abuse in our archdiocese and also for the Church as a whole.”
“Since 2010, many things have already been changed and implemented in the archdiocese, and we are far from finished. We will also discuss and implement further changes based on the recommendations of the current report.”
In April 2021, Marx asked German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to bestow the Federal Cross of Merit on him after an outcry among advocates for abuse survivors over the award.
He had been scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin.
Marx said that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.
Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a member of the affected persons’ advisory board of Cologne archdiocese, had urged the president to withhold the honor, citing Marx’s handling of cases when he was bishop of Trier in 2001–2007.
The official web portal of the Catholic Church in Germany reported in June 2021 that Marx’s actions in Trier would be “comprehensively investigated” by an independent commission on behalf of the diocese that has been led by Bishop Stephan Ackermann since 2009.
Munich archdiocese is expected to hold a press conference on Jan. 27 to address the conclusions of the new abuse report “after a first reading and examination.”
Concluding his statement, Marx highlighted the “Synodal Way,” the controversial multi-year process bringing together bishops and laypeople to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.
“Coming to terms with sexual abuse cannot be separated from the path of change, renewal, and reform of the Church. We will continue to work on this together,” he said.
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