Cardinal Reinhard Marx is the head of the German bishops conference and a member of the council of nine cardinals who act as Pope Francis’ closest advisers. He is also well-known as a heterodox bishop an extreme ideological progressive. He famously announced, in February 2015, that the German Church is “not just a subsidiary of Rome,” and that “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.”
And yet at some point, his concerns were assuaged, since he changed his tune to one of lock-step obedience by last October. Such docility!
“We must try to remain together,” he said. “The Church is the only institution in the world that can reach unanimous agreement. Thank God we have the pope. We bishops do not have to decide. Church unity is not in danger. And once the pope has decided, we will abide by his decision.”
As I said at the time, such a profound reversal indicated that here was a man who clearly had been assured that he would be getting exactly what he wanted. And so he did, as Amoris Laetitia has proven. In fact, Marx was given the task of presenting Amoris Laetitia in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican. In April, the German cardinal praised Amoris Laetitia, saying:
[H]e [Pope Francis] leads this doctrine back to its kernel and to the language that comes from the Gospels so that some things can be newly discovered. Even the indication that existing doctrines and norms of the Church are in need of an adaptation in the pastoral practice, is not [however] a novelty which Pope Francis introduces.
In these examples, we see the profile of a man empowered. A friend and trusted confidante of the pope, a leader of his peers, a revolutionary who has united himself to the greater cause. A man in a position of such prominence must be very careful not to embarrass the boss, so to speak. He carries not just the weight of his own positions, but those of the very Vicar of Christ who has brought him into his inner circle. Which is why his comments this week in Dublin can’t be taken as merely his own opinion:
A leading cardinal has said the Catholic Church should apologise to the gay community for its scandalous and terrible treatment of them, which had not changed until “very recently”.
Speaking in Dublin, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said: “The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them].”
As church and society “we’ve also to say ‘sorry, sorry’ ”.
Until “very recently”, the church, but also society at large, had been “very negative about gay people . . . it was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible,” he told The Irish Times after speaking at a conference held in Trinity College.
He said he had “shocked” people at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops in Rome when he asked how it was possible to dismiss as worthless a same-sex relationship of years duration where both men had been faithful.
“We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth,” he said.
It is up to the state “to make regulations for homosexuals so they have equal rights or nearly equal . . . but marriage is another point”, he said. The secular state “has to regulate these partnerships and to bring them into a just position and we as church cannot be against it”.
I don’t really think my commentary at this point is necessary.
For what it’s worth (very little) the cardinal stops short of saying he supports “gay marriage.” His one concession to decency is that “in all the history of mankind that [marriage] was the relationship between one man and woman, two who are open to give life for the next generation and that is a special relationship I think.” Echoing Francis himself, he also asserts that the state “must be secular. The state is not a Christian state.”
I can say to you with absolute moral certitude that as outrageous as they are, Pope Francis will not correct Cardinal Marx on any of these points. Francis has no qualms — none whatsoever — about being closely associated with a man who thinks this way. One can only surmise that this is because he unequivocally agrees with him.
But it isn’t proper for a man of the pope’s stature to say such things. This is why we have his cavalry of stalking horses, his army of surrogates. This is why we have the Vatican communications strategy that we do.
Meanwhile, in Austria, Cardinal Schönborn is the man whom Pope Francis entrusted with the interpretation of his magnum opus, Amoris Laetitia. When not praising cohabitation and gay relationships, Schönborn evidently enjoys donning the garb of the false (though comparatively noble) religion of the Sikhs.
This is not the Catholicism of our forefathers. It’s enough to make one weep.