National Catholic Register


A Lion in Munich

Archbishop Reinhardt Marx Takes Up Bavarian Post



February 24-March 1, 2008 Issue | Posted 2/19/08 at 2:37 PM


MUNICH, Germany — Among the many ceremonials that accompanied Archbishop Reinhardt Marx’s installation as archbishop of Munich was one that dated back to the Nazi era. It’s a vestige that has endured World War II, the Cold War and the new era of a reunified, albeit highly secularized, Germany.

Archbishop Marx was received by the prime minister of Bavaria, Günther Beckstein, in whose presence he swore on the Bible an oath of allegiance to Germany and Bavaria. The oath is prescribed by the Concordat of 1933 between the Vatican and the German Reich. The concordat had been approved by Adolf Hitler and Pope Pius XI.

But from his background and from remarks made during his installation, Archbishop Marx showed no signs of being sympathetic to the Nazis or, as his name might suggest, a Marxist. Far from it.

In a solemn pontifical Mass at Munich’s Liebfrauen Cathedral Feb. 2, the feast of Candlemas, the former bishop of Trier took possession of the Archdiocese of Munich. He succeeded Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who served since 1981, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, gave up the position to become prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Religion is no illusion,” the new shepherd said in his first homily — a reference to his famous German namesake, Karl Marx. In fact, he said, he is glad religion and the Church have become more present in the German general public again. He stressed that the faithful should maintain a distinct Catholic identity but at the same time be open to people of all faiths, as well as unbelievers.

“It is this combination that tipped the scales in Archbishop Marx’s favor by Pope Benedict XVI,” said Vatican commentator Jürgen Ehrbacher of Germany’s major TV station ZDF. For many in Germany the nomination of Bishop Marx as archbishop of Munich was a surprise.

Ordained in 1979, Archbishop Marx has a doctorate in theology and a background of pastoral work in the world of labor. In 1996 Pope John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of Paderborn and in 2001 Bishop of Trier, the oldest diocese in Germany.

The Holy Father used to call him “Our Marx,” and Archbishop Marx considers the deceased Polish Pope a “spiritual father.” So it was no surprise that the archbishop publicly and frequently announced during his installation his intention to place his service in the care of the Servant of God John Paul II.

Such a declaration is not self-evident in the homeland of Martin Luther, where John Paul II had faced considerable resistance.

The new archbishop “will not try to distinguish himself in stressing diverging viewpoints with regard to some Roman instructions as some German bishops did in the past,” in the opinion of Ludwig Ring-Eifel, editor in chief of KNA, Germany’s Catholic News Agency.

Bishops’ Conference

Archbishop Marx’s installation came at a time of transition for the Church in Germany. Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, who stepped down as president of the German bishops’ conference this month, delivered some hearty words at Archbishop Marx’s installation that were read by some observers as an indirect recommendation that the 54-year-old bishop succeed him in his influential post.

But 69-year-old Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg was elected Feb. 12.

With his installation, Archbishop Marx becomes president of the Bavarian bishops’ conference. In the German episcopate, he runs the Commission for Social Matters, is vice chairman of the Commission for the World Church and a member of the Justice and Peace Commission.

Some of the bishops in attendance spoke to the Register about what Archbishop Marx may face in his new position.

“In particular he should give positive testimony that by the faith in the love of God in Jesus Christ all of us can live in a more conscious and positive manner and so can cope with the day-to-day difficulties more successfully,” said Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg.

Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt predicted that “Archbishop Marx will pay particular attention to issues of social justice as well as the protection of the traditional family.”

He said Archbishop Marx tackles problems and mediates basic theological positions “in a way that people get filled with enthusiasm for these matters. He will be a good ambassador of the Church in society.”

Bishop John Tong Hon, newly-appointed coadjutor of Hong Kong and a personal friend of Archbishop Marx (they got to know one other during one of the bishops’ synods in Rome), praises his “broad-heartedness, open-mindedness and far-sighted views.”

What problems does Archbishop Marx face in the diocese?

“In Trier, he resolutely reformed the diocese,” Ring-Eifel noted. “He changed the structures of many parishes, he streamlined the administrative body of the diocese, he regulated the finances. In Munich he will be confronted with a decreasing number of priestly vocations and practicing Catholics as well as aging parishes.”

Therefore, the archbishop underlined during his first days in Munich that he wants to strengthen the communion between the bishop and the priests, as well as the communion among the clergy itself, and he emphasized the role of parishes as the backbone of the pastoral life.

“I hope the new bishop will put some emphasis on the evangelization in the parishes because it is strongly needed,” said Father Bodo Windolf, a pastor.

Two Lions

Archbishop Marx enjoyed a warm welcome in the archdiocese. “It is his spontaneity and openness which make him a close-to-the-folks bishop,” remarked a woman who came to see him. And in the opinion of a young student the new shepherd has “something of a pop-star” character.

It is highly likely that the social expert in the Church in Germany will engage himself in social and political debates.

“The Catholic Church in Germany has to look for new partners in the political scene, as there isn’t any more a political party that would be the natural partner of the Church,” said Ring-Eifel, noting one of the major public challenges of the Church. “The public debates in the past months have made that obvious.”

He referred to recent debates on the family and on embryonic stem-cell research.

The archbishop of Munich is traditionally received in the diocese in several stages — known as Einholung. Bishop Marx met Pope Benedict XVI in Rome Jan. 28 and on Jan. 30 was welcomed by many faithful of the diocese in the Benedictine Monastery of Scheyern, a place that Cardinal Ratzinger regularly visited for retreats. Abbot Engelbert Baumeister invited the archbishop to continue this tradition.

Afterward, Bishop Marx headed to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Feldmoching/Munich, as this was the first parish on his way to the city center of Munich.

The Einholung was concluded by a festive reception at the Marian Column at Munich’s famous Marienplatz. The next day Bishop Marx made his oath to the Bavarian prime minister. Bavaria is Germany’s most Catholic state.

On Feb. 2, after the installation liturgy, he was feted in a festive march through the city.

In his coat of arms there are two lions, in reference to his name as Marx, a derivative from Mark. The lion is the symbol of the evangelist Mark.

It is likely that there is more to be heard from the new lion of Munich.

Robert Rauhut is based in

Munich, Germany.