“Don't be a constant nay-sayer”

Next weekend, Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx flies again to Rome for the assembly of cardinals. In an interview, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising talks about current challenges for the German and universal church.

CBA: Cardinal, recent surveys of Catholics show how wide the gap has become between life and doctrine in sexual morality. What do the bishops do with this finding?

Cardinal Marx: First of all, I hope that those involved will recognize themselves in our catching together. The Pope wants a broad debate, a real look at reality. Perhaps we, as teachers of the faith, are also to blame for the impression that Catholics are against the teaching of the Church. Because that is a skewed perception. Does the majority reject the indissolubility of marriage?? No. Rejects that marriage should be oriented to the transmission of life? No. Sexuality does not belong in a definitive relationship? When I talk to young people, they already want to find the love of their lives and not love for a day. That is, after all, what matters.

CBA: But has the Church possibly exaggerated its statements in detail, for example on the subject of contraception??

Marx: Maybe. Confessional statements of the past were often very detailed. I doubt whether this will really lead anywhere. After all, a person's overall situation must remain in view. Perhaps this is why the sacrament of reconciliation is in crisis. When we as a church talk about morality, we should not really do so on the basis of catalogs of sins and registers of punishments. We must help people to shape their lives under the claim of the Gospel in such a way that they do not make arbitrary decisions in their conscience, but reflective ones, and of course also start anew and repent where necessary.

CBA: What solution do you have in mind for remarried couples??

Marx: Schematic rules do not do justice to people. What we need are perspectives for those whose marriages have broken down, even though they once believed in their indissolubility. It is about solutions that are experienced by those affected as help from the church and not as punishment. The indissolubility of marriage is a great directive of the Gospel. We must hold fast to this. But those who fail in this ideal should not feel like second-class Christians for the rest of their lives.

CBA: Are you satisfied with the crisis management of the bishops at Weltbild?

Marx: What we could do, we have done. I do not want to comment on details anymore. I hope for the best possible solutions for the employees. It was important that we in the Bishops' Conference clearly stated that we are making the funds originally promised for the restructuring of Weltbild available now in order to improve the prospects for the employees. For this I am grateful.

CBA: A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI. declared his resignation. Do you still have contact with him?

Marx: Yes. I experience him very awake. He follows the life of the church closely and is at peace with himself. Even after a year, I am still very impressed by his revolutionary act. A courageous, truly historic step. His pontificate will have a long-term impact. The Jesus books, his speeches, his whole theology appeals to people worldwide. We can be happy about that.

CBA: His successor is stirring up the Church – what else can be expected from Pope Francis??

Marx: Well, you'll have to ask him yourself (laughs). Francis is certainly a pope open to surprises. But in his first year, it has also become clear that he does not want a break with the past. Francis is leading the way, but he is thinking evolutionarily and wants to take everyone with him as much as possible. In external signs, he shows courage to be unconventional. In many areas, however, he attaches great importance to consultation. I think that is very good, and it gives me hope for the future.

CBA: How does he deal with you in the Council of Cardinals?

Marx: Open, fraternal and humble. The atmosphere of conversation is extremely pleasant. At first I was surprised that the pope actually attends every one of our meetings, which always last three days. He listens carefully, also interferes with concrete questions. Obviously, he enjoys recording different points of view.

CBA: In a few weeks the German Bishops' Conference will elect a new president. For the first time, there will be a kind of pre-conclave in the process. How do you deal with it – against the background of your own conclave experience a year ago in the Vatican??

Marx: So – the Bishops' Conference does not elect a pope. In this respect, the term pre-conclave is somewhat adventurous. But I don't think it's wrong that we take time for a discussion about the tasks we have ahead of us, without having a debate about personnel.

CBA: What lies ahead concretely?

Marx: The work of the Secretariat must certainly be further developed and it is necessary to consider which priorities must be dealt with more at the national level and what is more a matter for the individual dioceses. The Bishops' Conference does not replace the individual dioceses, but wants to unite their activities. The bishops must examine how this can be organized so that the flow of consultation is good. Because especially in public, in the media, but also in culture and science, it is important for us to be present nationwide and to be able to present ourselves in a high quality, concentrated, but also flexible and responsive way. The Church should not constantly appear as a naysayer, reacting only from the defensive, but it should make a strong contribution to the proclamation of the Gospel and engage in society with positive and progressive interventions.

The interview was conducted by Christoph Renzikowski.

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