“I take criticism very seriously”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx © Lino Mirgeler

Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx does not want to receive the Federal Cross of Merit. In a letter to German President Steinmeier on Tuesday, Marx asked to forgo the award planned for Friday at Bellevue Palace.

This is the right step, he says, with consideration for those who take offense at it. Abuse victims from Cologne and Trier had criticized the honor in view of Marx's unresolved role in several abuse cases.

"I take the criticism that is now being voiced by people who have been affected by sexual abuse in the space of the church very seriously, regardless of the accuracy of the individual statements in open letters and in the media publicity," writes Cardinal Reinhard Marx (67), according to his press office. He feels personally and also as a minister of the church obliged to the reappraisal.

Marx explains that he also wants to prevent negative interpretations with regard to other people who have received this distinction. At the same time, he had thanked for the "high honor of the award", to which Steinmeier had adhered "even in response to public criticism". He does not want to harm the office of the Federal President.

A sign for further reappraisal

He was aware that the award was also an occasion for self-critical reflection on his work and the work of the Catholic Church as a whole, writes Marx. He takes seriously the criticism that is now being voiced by people who have been affected by sexual abuse in the church – regardless of the accuracy of individual statements. In the sense of coming to terms with the past, to which he is committed, "I naturally do not ignore this criticism".

The cardinal expressed the hope that with this step he could perhaps also send a signal "that the further processing and, if possible, healing in the area of sexual abuse in church and society remains an important concern for me".

Steinmeier respects decision

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier respects the decision of Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx to renounce the award of the Federal Order of Merit. A spokeswoman informed the Catholic News Agency (KNA) on Tuesday evening in response to a request: "In a telephone conversation with Cardinal Marx, the Federal President reaffirmed his great merits for solidarity and justice, as expressed not least in the campaign for the reception of refugees, but also in the constant dialogue of Church and society."

Both are in agreement that the processing of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is "of paramount importance" and must be continued. To show consideration for those who had taken offense at the awarding of the order deserved recognition, added the Federal President, according to his spokeswoman.

The planned award of the Federal Cross of Merit to Marx had been criticized on Monday by the "affected advisory council Archdiocese of Cologne". The order may only be awarded if it is clearly proven that Marx did not take part in covering up abuse cases or obstructed clarification, advisory board member Peter Bringmann-Henselder had written to Steinmeier.

Abuse victims welcome the renunciation

Missbit association from the diocese of Trier called Marx's decision the "only right option". The announcement to renounce the honor shows that Marx is taking the criticism very seriously, said Missbit spokesman Hermann Schell. At the same time, he is disturbed that the Archbishop of Munich and former Bishop of Trier does not take a further position on the criticisms voiced by victims.

The spokesman for the affected persons' initiative "Eckiger Tisch," Matthias Katsch, also welcomed the decision of the former chairman of the German Bishops' Conference. "Respect!", Katsch commented on Twitter. He himself was honored with the Federal Cross of Merit in April, together with Jesuit priest Klaus Mertes.

Office of the Federal President initially held on to the award

The Office of the Federal President had initially held on to the award. Marx had stood in his time as chairman of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference "in a particularly high-profile way for justice and solidarity in society," it said, for example through his commitment to the reception of refugees and against populism and agitation.

For these services, he should be awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, like his predecessors in the office of bishops' conference chairman and former council chairman of the Protestant Church in Germany.

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