BY MAIKE HICKSON AND STEVE SKOJEC ON AUGUST 18, 2016
Since 16 August 2016, many reports have been published in Germany indicating that Cardinal Reinhard Marx — Archbishop of Munich, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, and one of the close collaborators of Pope Francis — may be guilty of negligent conduct concerning a sexual abuse case in the Diocese of Trier (of which he was then-bishop) ten years ago. The reports have been so numerous that Katholisch.de, the official website of the German Bishops, had to publish an article on the matter to clarify known details.
As the German magazine FOCUS reports on 16 August, Cardinal Marx had knowledge of the abuse case of one of his priests in Trier, but did not take further steps to remove him from his office.
In 2006, a legal investigation from the state against this abusive priest was suspended due to the statute of limitations. According to the FOCUS, however, later in 2013 and 2015, other law suits were filed against that same priest. Only recently, after the new bishop of Trier finally requested the state’s files on the matter earlier this year, was the priest in question forbidden to offer Holy Mass or to have contact with children and youth. As FOCUS put it: “According to Church’s Law, these deeds [of sexual abuse of minors] are not time-barred.”
Katholisch.de says that Cardinal Marx did not follow up on this abuse case which was declared to be time-barred (past the statute of limitations) in the eyes of the state. Thus, even though Marx knew of the case and of the fact that there was a problem at hand, he did not pursue it in a way that would fulfill his moral duty as bishop and guardian of his flock. A press spokesman for Marx says that at that time, Marx followed the Church’s guidelines with regard to abuse cases. However, he did not even request to see the files of the state’s court at the time in order to obtain a full picture of the documented misdeeds of the abusive priest. After the state’s decision not to sentence the abusive priest, the Diocese of Trier — under Marx’s leadership — left the priest in his position as pastor of a diocesan parish. Marx remained Bishop of Trier until 2008. Afterward, he was made Archbishop of Munich.
In 2011, Cardinal Marx had caused a debate with regard to his seemingly neglectful conduct in yet another sexual abuse case. This time, he acted as Archbishop of Munich. He is said to have failed to inform a Catholic school in Bavaria (of the Monastery in Ettal) that one of their new teachers had a record of sexual abuse. That teacher, purportedly, had raped a boy. Only months after hearing of the accusations of abuse – and after Cardinal Marx’s speaking with the victim himself – did the Diocese of Munich inform that school of the teacher’s misdeeds. This after a delay of several months. The teacher was, however, immediately suspended at that time.
This inquiry into Cardinal Marx’ dereliction of duty in at least two cases will not easily go away. So far, no official Ecclesial investigation concerning his conduct as the shepherd of two dioceses has been initiated. But the public pressure in Germany might very well lead into this direction.
As has been reported here previously, Pope Francis condemned the clerical enablers of sexual abuse in strong words during his US visit last September, and promised oversight and accountability:
I carry in my heart the stories, the suffering and the pain of the minors who were sexually abused by priests. I’m overwhelmed by the shame that people who were in charge of caring for those young ones raped them and caused them great damages. I regret this profoundly. God weeps! The crimes and sins of sexual abuse to minors can’t be kept a secret anymore. I commit to the zealous oversight of the Church to protect minors, and I promise that everyone responsible will be held accountable.
But in that same article, it was observed that Francis has not applied these standards to those prelates who are his friends, such as Cardinal Godfried Daneels, who was recorded personally discouraging a victim of clerical sex abuse from coming forward with charges against his own uncle, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges. This after Daneels had received multiple reports of Vangheluwe’s abuse over the years. Additionally, Daneels
has been reported to have “advised the king of Belgium to sign an abortion law in 1990″, “said same-sex ‘marriage’ was a ‘positive development,’” and refused “to forbid pornographic, ‘educational’ materials being used in Belgian Catholic schools.”
Then there was also the case of Bishop Juan Barros, whom Francis appointed as Bishop of Osorno in Chile:
Staffers in the Vatican paid to think about such things sometimes sit around trying to identify possible tipping points in the public romance with Pope Francis, meaning a calamity that might put a serious dent in his high approval ratings.
One no-brainer on the list would be a perception that he’s backtracking on “zero tolerance” when it comes to sexual abuse in the Church, and two recent story lines suggest it’s not an abstract worry.
First, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reported on Thursday that five members of the pope’s own anti-abuse commission have expressed “concern and incredulity” that Bishop Juan Barros has been given command of the Diocese of Osorno in Chile, despite his public record of defending the country’s most notorious abuser priest.
Those objections came on top of protests that forced Barros’ installation Mass to be cut short, as well as ongoing efforts by clergy and laity to ask Francis to rethink the appointment.
In addition, the situation also raises questions about the oft-proclaimed commitment of Pope Francis and his Vatican team to accountability, not just for personnel who commit abuse, but also for bishops and other supervisors who cover it up or defend the guilty.
Francis own response to the Barros controversy was to say that “The Osorno community is suffering because it’s dumb,” and that it “has let its head be filled with what politicians say, judging a bishop without any proof.”
Pope Francis then issued a new motu proprio letter in June of 2016 — “Come una madre amorevole” (As a Loving Mother) — allegedly intended to deal with episcopal enablers of clerical sex abuse. At the time of its release, we asked, again, whether it would be applied to men like Daneels and Barros:
There is currently no English text of the motu proprio, but sources in Rome tell me that it is primarily directed at ordinaries currently serving in episcopal sees. This seems strange when “retired” Cardinals like Law and Danneels are still out there, consequence free. Barros is a new bishop, and thus, should be among the first to earn the scrutiny of this new document, but if Francis really means business on this issue, Danneels can’t go unaffected.
The simple fact is this: if friends of the pope are off limits, the new procedures are all but worthless.
With the new revelations about Cardinal Marx — yet another close friend and personal advisor of the pope — the worth of the procedures seem ready to again be tested.