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Pope Francis rejects German cardinal’s offer to resign

ROME – Pope Francis on Thursday rejected the resignation of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich, who sought to quit his post last month in a move to shoulder personal responsibility on behalf of the entire church hierarchy for decades sexual abuse by priests and the irresponsibility of bishops.

In a warm letter written in his native Spanish and signed “with brotherly affection,” Francis told the 67-year-old German, a leading liberal in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany and a member of the powerful advisory board of the Pope, that he should stay in his office and help guide the church through the shoals.

“I like the way you end the letter,” wrote Francis, referring to Cardinal Marx’s request to continue to act as priest and bishop and to act as pastor in the way Francis considered appropriate. .

“And that is my answer, dear brother”, concluded François. “Continue as you suggest but as Archbishop of Munich and Freising.”

Francis added that if Cardinal Marx was “tempted to think” that the Pope “does not understand you” he should remember what Jesus said to his apostle Peter when he confessed his sins and offered his own resignation. : “Take my sheep”.

Cardinal Marx has never been publicly accused of perpetrating or covering up abuses. He endowed a foundation aimed at helping victims of abuse come to terms with the church, donating over $ 600,000 of his own money saved during his decades as a priest.

He has also become a leading liberal force trying to bring about structural changes in the church on issues of celibacy and homosexuality, and in the current constitution governing the Vatican.

By affectionately telling her to stay and praising the cardinal’s “courage”, Francis did not at least not undermine the will of the German church to reconsider priestly celibacy, to expand the role of women in the church and to bless same-sex couples, who are all fiercely opposed by conservatives.

By Thursday, some Vatican observers had already begun to question whether the quickly presented and rejected resignation was choreographed to bolster Cardinal Marx’s position in the face of conservative headwinds in the Vatican or in the United States, where much of the opposition conservative to Francis’s vision is ingrained. .

A Roman clergyman who speaks often with Pope Francis insisted on Thursday that Cardinal Marx’s resignation surprised the Pope and said it was an expression of German conscience.

Cardinal Marx’s role has given the German church significant influence in the Vatican, even as the church is hemorrhaging membership in Germany, with more than 270,000 people leaving in 2019 alone.

In his original letter, which Cardinal Marx said he spent months thinking about before sending him to the Vatican on May 21, he wrote: “It is important for me to share the responsibility for the disaster of sexual abuse committed by church leaders over the past decades. “

He added that he believed Catholics were at a “dead end” in terms of the crisis and remained troubled by a question put to him as head of the German Bishops’ Conference when publishing a 2018 report that showed almost 3,700 children were abused for seven decades in Germany alone.

He was asked how many bishops had resigned as a result of the abuse, and the answer was no. The cardinal told reporters this month that he has decided to lead by example.

“I think that one possibility of expressing this willingness to take responsibility is my resignation,” the cardinal wrote in his letter, adding: “I therefore urge you to accept this resignation”.

In rejecting the resignation, Francis added that he shared Cardinal Marx’s concerns. The silence and protection of the institution at all costs, he writes, “leads to personal and historical failure, and brings us to live with the weight of” keeping skeletons in the closet “, as the saying goes” .

Francis added: “I agree with you that this is a catastrophe: the sad history of sexual abuse and the way the Church has approached it until recently. He called the awareness of hypocrisy in the church a first step towards taking “responsibility for this story, both as individuals and as a community”.

Francis made it clear that the church could no longer adopt a “policy with its head in the sand”.

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