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Top German cardinal ignored sex abuse claims: ‘We did not listen to the victims’

'We looked away for too long,' admitted Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops' Conference and advisor to the Pope.
Thu Sep 27, 2018 - 3:36 pm EST
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FULDA, Germany, September 27, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Cardinal Archbishop of Munich broke the German Church’s regulations concerning clerical sexual abuse victims on at least two occasions.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the President of the German Bishops Conference and a member of Pope Francis’ elite Council of Nine, has admitted to “shame” for his part in neglecting victim survivors of clerical sexual abuse. Marx is one of the cardinals who takes the position that divorced and remarried Catholics without an annulment should be admitted to Holy Communion. After the publication of Amoris Laetitia, Marx said it was clear Pope Francis supported that position, which is contrary to what the Church has always taught.

On September 25, when presenting the official report on sex abuse committed by German clergy at a meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference in Fulda, Marx included himself amongst the German bishops who “did not care about the victims.”

“I feel shame about the fact that many who did not want to realize what happened looked away and that they did not care about the victims,” Marx said. “That applies also to me. We did not listen to the victims.”

“We looked away for too long, for the sake of the institution and in order to protect us priests and bishops,” the cardinal continued.

Marx was the Bishop of Trier starting in 2002 until he was promoted to the Archdiocese of Munich in 2008. As bishop, he did not investigate a Trier priest he knew to have been accused of abuse. Named “Otmar M.” by the German courts and media, the priest was accused before a state prosecutor in 2006. Although Otmar M. did not deny the allegations of his victim, named Michael W., the abuse was deemed outside the statute of limitations, and the case was dropped.

There is, however, no statute of limitations in the German Church. By the Church’s own 2002 regulations, it was the duty of the relevant bishop to begin an investigation immediately after hearing about a suspicion or violation. This Marx did not do. It was also the the duty of the diocese to reach out immediately to the victim; Marx did not do this either.

After being accused of abuse before the courts three more times, Otmar M. was sent into early retirement in 2015 by Marx’s successor but without any reference to the allegations. Bishop Stephan Ackermann finally contacted the victim, Michael W., in 2016.  

In 2011, there was an outcry in the German press concerning Marx’s neglect in the case of another alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse. The media accused Marx, as Archbishop of Munich, of failing to inform a Catholic school in Bavaria that one of its new teachers had been accused of raping a boy. After the diocese heard of the allegations, and after Cardinal Marx spoke with the victim, several months passed before the school was informed and the teacher was suspended.

During the presentation of the German Bishops’ official report, which examined Church sex abuse cases in all 27 German dioceses from 1946 until 2014, Marx blamed a culture of power and clericalism for the abuse. However, the report found that half the victims were aged thirteen or younger and the majority were boys. Of the 3,677 victims, 969 were altar boys.

Marx also said that he had suggested to Pope Francis that the issue of sex abuse should be discussed both by the “C9” and at the upcoming Youth Synod.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the German Bishops Conference’s spokesman on child abuse issues, said that he “unfortunately” had expected the results of the study.

“Nevertheless, it frightens me again,” he said.

Ackermann added that the bishops have to now be even more “consistent” in their endeavors against clerical sexual abuse and work more closely together. There need to be “structures that help to effectively prevent the abuse of power.”

“‘We have received this mandate from Jesus Christ Himself,” he continued. “Jesus already strongly condemns the abuse of power when he says to his disciples: ‘You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest.’ (Mt 20:25f)”

The report has been criticized for the manner in which its data was compiled. Researchers did not look at original Church files but sent questionnaires to dioceses to answer. The researchers revealed that there was evidence that some files had been altered or destroyed. However, they also interviewed victims and priests and examined court records.

Professor Harald Dreßing, the academic coordinator of the study, said that it represented only “the tip of the iceberg.” He said at the report’s presentation that he has studied sexual abuse for decades, but was still disturbed by what he had found.

“The extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and how the Church dealt with it nevertheless shook me,” he said.

Dreßing blamed clericalism, homosexuality within the Church, celibacy, and the Sacrament of Confession as potential promoters of abuse.


  catholic, crisis in the catholic church, german bishops conference, homosexuality, reinhard marx, sex abuse crisis in catholic church, stephan ackermann

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