Cardinal Marx has announced he will not seek a second term as head of the German Bishops’ Conference, three days after warning that the Church must not revolve around itself, but instead must seek “solutions to the problems, crises and catastrophes of the world”.

Driving the news

Cardinal Marx, 66 years old and German Bishops’ chairman since 2014, announced his decision to step down from the role in a letter to his fellow bishops February 11.

“The year 2020 is progressing and with it the view of the agenda and the scheduling for this and the coming year. This also applies to the obligations of the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference”, Marx affirmed.

“I therefore think it is right to clarify before the election of the chairman at the spring general assembly that I am not available for a possible second term”, wrote the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, who is also one of the Pope’s right-hand men as Coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy and a member of Francis’ Council of Cardinals.

“It has been clear to me for some time”, Marx said of his decision to step aside.

“My idea is that at the end of a possible second term of office, I would be 72 years old, and then the end of my role as Archbishop of Munich and Freising will also be close”, the cardinal added, referring to the fact that prelates are expected to offer their resignation to the Pope at the age of 75.

“I think it should be the turn of the younger generation. And maybe it is also good if there is a change in this task more often”, Marx continued.

“I was very happy to hold the office of Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, but ‘everything has its time'”, he said, quoting from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes.

Go deeper

In his letter to his brother bishops on the occasion of his stepping down, Cardinal Marx added that “off course, I will continue to work actively in the Episcopal Conference and will be particularly committed to the synodal path, which I think has started well“.

“At the same time, I would like to have a stronger presence in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, especially in the comprehensive strategic process that we want to start this year”, he explained.

The election of the new chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference will take place at the prelates’ spring general assembly from March 2-5 in Mainz.

Why it matters

In hindsight, the decision of Cardinal Marx to step aside as German Bishops’ chairman – though unexpected – is perhaps no surprise, given that just three days ago, on February 8, he warned against a Church that just revolves around itself at the expense of going out into the world.

“Only if we start from the mystery of God will we find solutions to the problems, crises, and catastrophes of the world”, Marx said at a service in Munich commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Nazi execution of Jesuit Alfred Delp.

Only “a Church that sees its concern in the wounds of the world” and there in those wounds proclaims God’s saving will is the Church of the future, Marx said.

He added that, after the example of Delp, “we must remain watchful and vigilant against hatred, arrogance; where people want to put themselves above others; against inhumane ideologies – especially we Christians”.

But though Cardinal Marx promised in his letter of resignation to remain “particularly committed” to the synodal path – and insisted in the Delp commemorative service on the importance of deep spirituality to anchor that reform process – the truth is his stepping aside as Bishops’ chairman is a blow to the reform cause he has championed since it began.

This week the German Bishops’ news website has been continuing to praise the synodal path for “dismantling hierarchies” in the Church, and for its promotion of a dialogue in which “bishops and laity have struggled for the truth ‘at eye level'”.

Many in the German Church will be hoping those impulses don’t fade away with the departure of Cardinal Marx as German Bishops’ chairman.

Next on Novena:

Cardinal Marx donates 100,000 euros to Lesbos refugees

German Protestant head sees Cardinal Marx as “ally” in search for shared communion

Marx calls for greater say for women, laypeople: “Men discussing the Church on their own is not a good thing”

Cardinal Marx says spreading fear of hell impedes Gospel

Cardinal Marx backs “pastoral” blessings for gay couples

Cardinal Marx deplores Europe refugee “scandal”: “The dead in the Mediterranean are Christ”

Cardinal Marx calls for “new era of Christianity”

Cardinal Marx deplores Christian anti-Semitism: “Jesus was a Jew, until the end. He never became Catholic”

Marx insists greater role for women in Church “necessary and overdue”

Marx scolds Synod sceptics for speaking of heresy

Marx doubles down on synodal path: “There’s no stop sign from Rome”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.