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June 17, 2021

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Pope rejects German cardinal’s resignation, urges reform

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FILE - In this Germany, Friday, June 4, 2021 file photo, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, gives a statement to the press in the courtyard of his residence in Munich. Pope Francis refused Thursday, June 10, 2021 to accept the resignation offered by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx over the sex abuse scandal in the church, but said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the "catastrophe" of the crisis.
FILE - In this Germany, Friday, June 4, 2021 file photo, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, gives a statement to the press in the courtyard of his residence in Munich. Pope Francis refused Thursday, June 10, 2021 to accept the resignation offered by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx over the sex abuse scandal in the church, but said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the "catastrophe" of the crisis. (Peter Kneffel/dpa via AP, File) Photo Gallery

ROME — Pope Francis refused Thursday to let German Cardinal Reinhard Marx resign over the sex abuse scandal in the German Church, but said reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis.

Francis wrote a letter to Marx to respond to his bombshell announcement last week that he had offered to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising over the church’s mishandling of abuse cases.

Francis refused to accept the resignation and told Marx, one of the pope’s closest advisers, that he must continue as archbishop and “shepherd my sheep.”

Francis said what was necessary instead was a process of reform “that doesn’t consist in words but attitudes that have the courage of putting oneself in crisis, of assuming reality regardless of the consequences.”

Francis’ letter appeared to give Marx papal backing to proceed with the German Church’s controversial reform process that was launched as a response to the abuse crisis. The “Synodal Path” has sparked fierce resistance inside Germany and beyond, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on issues such as priestly celibacy, women’s role in the church and homosexuality.

The speed with which Francis resoundingly rejected Marx’s offer to resign was curious and suggested the drama might have been somewhat choreographed, perhaps to give Marx backing for the reforms.

Marx had said he had been thinking about resigning for several months and had discussed it with Francis. He said he decided to publish his resignation letter June 4, after Francis gave him permission.

Within a week, Francis had published his response, with the correspondence between both men being made public in a variety of languages.

Francis’ decision to keep Marx on was welcomed by the head of the influential German lay group ZdK, or Central Committee of German Catholics, which is engaged in the reform process.

“I am happy that we are keeping Cardinal Marx as a strong voice, not least with a view to the Synodal Path,” ZdK leader Thomas Sternberg told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

But a prominent group representing German clergy abuse survivors, Eckiger Tisch, said Francis’ decision had deprived Marx’s offer of its radical impact. Marx, the group said in a statement, had targeted the responsibility of all bishops — including the pope — for the church’s “system of abuse and cover-ups.”

“Now the pope is just moderating this shocking insight away and, in so doing, also exonerating his own office,” the group said. “Not much remains of the radical new beginning that Cardinal Marx’s offer of resignation hinted at”

The group said the pope should have listened to German victims before making his decision.

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