Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany. 

Protection of minors: Card. Marx - traceability, transparency make Church credible

Speaking on day 3 of the meeting in the Vatican on the Protection of Minors in the Church, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx called for traceability and transparency in dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors in the Church.

By Robin Gomes

Traceability and transparency in Church administration in dealing with and preventing the sexual abuse of minors are a “decisive factor in the trustworthiness and credibility of the Church.” “It is not transparency which damages the Church, but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency, or the ensuing cover-up,” said German Cardinal Reinhard Marx on Saturday in his presentation to the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church,” taking place in the Vatican.  

190 participants, including patriarchs, cardinals, bishops, religious superiors, heads of Vatican dicasteries and presidents of bishops’ conferences, are gathered in the Vatican Feb. 21-24, to plan strategies as a Church in responding effectively to eradicate the scourge of clerical sexual abuse of minors in the Church. 

Each of the three days has a specific theme - responsibility, accountability and transparency.

Transparency as a Community of Believers,” was the theme of the presentation of Cardinal Marx, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, on day 3 of the meeting.  

The Archbishop of Munich and Freising described transparency as actions, decisions, processes, procedures, etc. that are understandable and traceable.  According to him “traceability and transparency are inextricably linked.”


Card. Marx pointed out that a fully-functional Church administration is an important building block in combatting abuse of minors.  

The visible social structures of the Church, he said, serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body. Hence, there is the need for a fully-functional administration, which must be oriented towards the goal of the Church, and based on the principle of justice.  Administration standardises procedures and processes, makes things objective by creating and enforcing rules and laws, and helps prevent arbitrariness, thus contributing actively to justice.  Administration regulates, and sanctions infringements against the common interest, rules and laws.

Abuse of power

However, Cardinal Marx warned that this power of administration can also be misused and abused when it forgets its function of serving the different people living together and cooperating to achieve higher goals. Administration can also be preoccupied with itself and use rules and regulations only to sustain the power of persons.

The cardinal pointed out that “the sexual abuse of children and youths is in no small measure due to the abuse of power in the area of administration.”  “In this regard, administration has not contributed to fulfilling the mission of the Church, but on the contrary, has obscured, discredited and made it impossible.”

“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible,” he said,  “were destroyed, or not even created.”  “Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them.”

The cardinal said that “stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution of offences were deliberately not complied with, but instead cancelled or overridden.” “The rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot, and left to the whims of individuals.”

Card. Marx said, “These are all events that sharply contradict what the Church should stand for.”  “The way in which Church administration was structured and carried out, did not contribute to unifying the whole human race, and bringing mankind closer to God, but on the contrary, violated these aims.”

In cases where the Church has failed, the 65-year old cardinal said, the thoughts of some abuse victims can be summarized as follows: “If the Church claims to act in the name of Jesus, yet I am treated so badly by the Church or its administration, then I would also like to have nothing to do with this Jesus.”

Transparency and traceability

In order for administration to act in accordance with the Church’s mission, and with the nature of the Church as a "symbol and instrument", Card. Marx said, there needs to be transparency and traceability of administrative procedures.

Administrative procedures become transparent, if it is understandable and traceable who has done what, when, why and what for, and what has been decided, rejected or assigned. Thus, people who experience transparent administration can uncover errors and mistakes in the administrative actions, and defend themselves against such actions.

Objections to traceability and transparency could possibly come from violations of pontifical secrecy or from false accusations with the purpose to ruin the reputation of innocent priests, the priesthood or the Church.  

But as Card. Marx finds, there is no reason behind the application of pontifical secrecy to the prosecution of criminal offences concerning the abuse of minors.

A clearly-defined public procedure establishes a degree of credibility, which enables restoring the reputation of a wrongly-accused person, who would otherwise be subjected to rumours, if the investigation is not appropriate, transparent or conclusive.

“It is not transparency which damages the Church, but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency, or the ensuing cover-up,” stressed Card. Marx who also serves a Coordinator of the Council for the Economy in the Vatican.

Immediate measures

The urgency of the abuse of minors, the cardinal said, calls for immediate initiation of important measures. 

In this regard, he recommended that the goal and the limits of pontifical secrecy and confidentiality should be clearly defined in order that the Church be not exposed to the suspicion of covering up.  

Quality transparent procedural norms and rules for ecclesiastical processes must be established.  

Facts must be set out transparently with the public announcement of statistics on the number of cases, and details thereof, as far as possible.

Judicial proceedings should be published, or else lingering doubts about the proper conduct of court proceedings will only harm the reputation and the functioning of the Church.

23 February 2019, 10:51