Cardinal Reinhard Marx – a close collaborator of Pope Francis and a member of the Council of Nine – is coming now increasingly under pressure for his alleged negligence with regard to past abuse cases which took place in his own Diocese of Trier at the time.
On 3 May, the German newspaper Die Zeit reported on some new information that is coming to light and that shows that Marx, who was Bishop of Trier from 2002 to 2008, did not take the necessary steps as the bishop when one of his priests – Otmar M. – was under state investigation for his conduct in a past sexual abuse case involving a minor. As Die Zeit already had said, in August of 2016:
Since May , the priest Otmar M., from the Saarland region, has been forbidden to have any contact with children and youth. The Diocese of Trier has filed a charge against him, now the state prosecutor is investigating the charges against the 64-year-old man. He is being accused of abuse – for the fourth time since 2006. And since last week it is clear that Cardinal Reinhard Marx – the President of the German Bishops’ Conference and the current Archbishop of Munich-Freising – knew at the time of the charges but did not start an investigation of the case. [emphasis added]
In August of 2016, when the debate had started about Cardinal Marx’ role and responsibility, the German Bishops’ website Katholisch.de discussed the matter, as well; and had said, in my summarizing words, the following:
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. [emphasis added]
Thus, Cardinal Marx did not take any reasonable and just steps for stopping this priest’s immoral behavior. Importantly, he did not even seek to get in contact with the victim (Michael W.) himself! Yet, Marx still claimed, in 2016, that he himself had nonetheless acted according to the Church’s own guidelines at the time.
As the August 2016 Zeit article points out, however, even if the abuse case was time-barred due to the state’s laws, this does not mean that Cardinal Marx – even according to the then-binding Church laws – did not still have a duty to take action against the abusive priest:
This is not fully correct [that Marx had acted according to Church regulations]: Already in the 2002 rules, it was written: “Immediately after hearing about a suspicion or about a violation, the commissioner starts the investigation.” The suspicion existed, even if the case was held to be time-barred in the eyes of [secular] state institutions. In any case, abuse does not become time-barred in and according to Church Law. [emphasis added]
(Die Zeit now, in May of 2017, also points out that the 2002 Church regulations stated that the Church immediately has to take steps to hear the victims themselves. This specific act had not taken place, either.)
The putative negligence which, under the increasing pressure, Cardinal Marx now seems to have gradually come around to acknowledge, gets even weightier and more culpable when considering the new information just provided in the 3 May 2017 article by Die Zeit. For, since 2006, the priest Otmar M. seems now to have been formally accused in front of the state prosecutor seven times (in two of these cases by the Diocese of Trier itself)! Among the accusations are the charges of “illegal ownership of weapons up to severe sexual abuse of a pupil of an elementary class.” All of these investigations have now been dropped, however, due to time limitations; or due to the prosecutor’s own prudential judgment that the initial suspicions were not severe enough; or that the case would not be realistically judged against the accused priest. Within the Church, however, the case is still under some investigation.
The initial 2006 legal investigation, however, which found that the case was time-barred, nevertheless showed that the suspicion for an abuse was well-grounded. That should have been enough for Cardinal Marx. According to Die Zeit – whose reporters made intense and protracted investigations themselves, and have also had access to some of the legal files – even the accused priest’s own lawyer admitted that, according to the legal files, Father Otmar M. did not deny the allegations made by the victim Michael W. and that he (Otmar M.) was aware that he had committed an immoral deed. In 2015, the Diocese of Trier sent Father Otmar M. prematurely into retirement, but without any reference to the abuse allegations. Only in December of 2016, has the Diocese of Trier – now under Bishop Stephan Ackermann – finally gotten around to contact the victim Michael W. himself.
Now, after more than a half a year of public discussion about Cardinal Marx’ own role and responsibility in this matter, the German prelate finally also came around making a more direct comment to Die Zeit – up to now, moreover, he had only spoken to the media through his official spokesmen about this case. Even though he still does not comment specifically on the concrete case of Otmar M, Cardinal Marx – with tepid empathy – now says, according to Die Zeit:
“For me personally, I would like to explicitly state that I today – and unfortunately only in retrospect – recognize that I should have inquired more intensively.” The Church – to include himself – was too little willing to realize what priests also can do to young people, and the Church’s conduct was not always appropriate with respect to the painful situations of the victims. “For the Church and also for me myself, this was a painful process of learning, to think and to act especially and in everything from the viewpoint of the victims.” [emphasis added]
Is it not time to consider whether it is still appropriate that such a man as Cardinal Reinhard Marx should be the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, and even a member of the Pope’s own Council of Nine?