Born in Geseke, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cardinal Marx was ordained to the priesthood, for the Archdiocese of Paderborn, by Archbishop Johannes Joachim Degenhardt on 2 June 1979. He obtained a doctorate in theology, from the University of Bochum, in 1989.
On 23 July 1996, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Paderborn and Titular Bishop of Petina by Pope John Paul II. Marx was consecrated on 21 September (his forty-third birthday) by Archbishop Degenhardt, with Bishops Hans Drewes and Paul Consbruch serving as co-consecrators.
On 20 December 2001 he was named Bishop of Trier (the oldest diocese in Germany), succeeding Hermann Josef Spital nearly a year after the latter's retirement. Marx is considered to be rather conservative in matters of Church discipline, but also a "social scientist ... and whiz with the media". Moreover, in 2003, he suspended a theologian for extending to Protestants an invitation to the Eucharist.
On 30 November 2007 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Reinhard Marx as Metropolitan Archbishop of Munich and Freising, a position that Benedict himself held from 1977 to 1981. Rumours surrounding this were circulated before Pope Benedict's formal announcement, but Marx responded to these by saying, "The Pope names bishops, not the press." On 2 February 2008, Marx was installed as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in the Munich Frauenkirche. He became first-ever Cardinal-Priest of San Corbiniano on 20 November 2010. Cardinal Marx's title is that of Saint Corbinian, who was the first bishop of Freising and of whom Cardinal Marx is the apostolic successor.
Cardinal Marx currently serves as head of the committee for social issues at the German Bishops' Conference. In addition to his duties as archbishop of Munich on 11 December 2010, Cardinal Marx was named by Pope Benedict as a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education for a five-year renewable term. On 29 December 2010 he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
On 7 March 2012, he was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
On 22 March 2012, the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community elected him its president.
He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.
On 13 April 2013 he was appointed to a group of cardinals established by Pope Francis, exactly a month after his election to advise him and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, 'Pastor Bonus'. The other cardinals are Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Vatican City State governorate; Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa from Chile; Oswald Gracias from India; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Seán Patrick O'Malley OFM Cap from the United States of America; George Pell from Australia; and Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras. Bishop Marcello Semeraro, will act as secretary for the group. The group's first meeting has been scheduled for 1–3 October 2013. His Holiness is, however, currently in contact with the aforementioned cardinals.
On the question whether the Church should allow remarried divorcees to Communion, it came to disagreements with Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the head of the Congregation of the Faith at the Vatican, in November 2013. Cardinal Marx called for a wide debate on the treatment of the Catholic Church with divorced and remarried.
When the Vatican suspended Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst in 2013 over his alleged lavish spending also Cardinal Reinhard Marx was criticized as he spent around $11 million renovating the archbishop’s residence and another $13 million for a guesthouse in Rome.
On 19 February 2014 he was confirmed as a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches until the end of his current five-year term.
On 8 March 2014, he was named by Pope Francis as the Cardinal-Coordinator of the Council for Economic Affairs, which will oversee the Secretariat for the Economy, a new financial regulatory department of the Roman Curia.
On 12 March 2014 Cardinal Marx was also elected chairman of the German Bishops' Conference as successor of Robert Zollitsch. He was elected in Münster by the German bishops and auxiliary bishops only in the fifth round of voting in which a simple majority is sufficient.
He was elected as President of the Bishops' Conference on the European Community on March 22, 2012.
After Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, Cardinal Marx issued a statement saying: "This decision of the British voters should of course be respected, even if we, as COMECE, find it extremely regrettable." He praised the EU's "project of community and solidarity" but also stated: "We need to 'rethink' Europe in some way. ... we will only be able to build a good future if the nations of Europe are united. It also raises the question on the way to achieve the 'true European humanism' to which Pope Francis has encouraged the Europeans."
Despite protests by Catholics in Germany, including the Catholic Workers Movement, Cardinal Marx spoke positively of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. He said: "Given today’s huge social and environmental challenges, I won’t have a good feeling if Europe pulls out of shaping globalization and leaves the issues and actions to others,"
Following the Christmas market attack in Berlin in December 2016, Cardinal Marx said "The news from Berlin have deeply shocked me. The violence on the Christmas market is the opposite of what visitors were seeking. My compassion goes to the relatives of the dead and injured. For all of them I will pray."
In April 2017, Cardinal Marx met with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, and he hailed the great achievements that had been made in Europe in recent history. In a joint statement with Anglican bishop Christopher Hill, Marx said "In the decades since the founding of the European Union and its predecessor institutions, Europeans have benefitted from historic periods of peace, the expansion of democracy on the continent, and increased freedom to work, travel, and study,' and 'We believe more than ever in the European project and believe that a common path resting on shared values is the best path, ... A united Europe brings about peace in a world where peace cannot be taken for granted."
In May 2017, the leaders of COMECE met in Rome in relation to a high-level congress to take place in Rome this fall on the theme 'Rethinking Europe'. On the occasion, Cardinal Marx stated that putting the human person back at the centre of European public policy was the church's message and he further stated, "I see, when I meet politicians and other people, that they are open to discuss,” ...“We cannot [do] politics, we are not politicians,” ... “but we can enable the way.”
Marx has been active in recent years at meetings of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The synod was one of two called by Pope Francis for 2014 and 2015 on family life issues. The interim working document, known as the relatio post disceptationem, summarized the first week of discussions, calling on the church to listen more and to apply mercy more widely. In 2014, addressing a question raised on the family, he argued that church doctrine can change over time, and "doesn't depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time." "Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things," Marx later clarified at a Vatican press conference. "The core of the Catholic Church remains the Gospel, but have we discovered everything? This is what I doubt."
Marx also indicated support for Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal to give the sacrament of Holy Communion in certain circumstances to people who had divorced and remarried. He has stated his position that no sacramental second marriage was possible within Catholic teaching, but he wanted it to be possible that people whose marriages had failed could still be accepted within the church.
While previously suggesting that the German church might go in a different direction than the Synod, Cardinal Marx insisted at the 2015 Synod that he would abide by whatever the Pope decided. 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."
When Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia' was published in April 2016, Cardinal Marx praised it along with several other German bishops and specifically pointed out paragraph 301 in the exhortation 'Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace'.
When several cardinals led by Cardinal Raymond Burke published a set of questions asking for clarifications regarding certain aspects of 'Amoris Laetitia', Marx opposed it and claimed that the exhortation was not ambiguous as some claimed, and that it did in fact allow for people to receive the Eucharist in a second marriage under certain circumstances. Cardinal Burke and others who had published these questions believed that under no circumstances could communion be given to someone who was in a second marriage.
In February 2017, Marx, when speaking of the events surrounding this controversy, stated: '“We have discussions in the church, normal discussions, tensions. It will be forever like this.” Marx also claimed that support for the Pope within the church was substantial.
In March 2017, Marx met the Pope at Rome, and the Pope expressed joy over the new guidelines of the German bishops' conference that allowed for communion given to divorced and remarried couples.
In 2011, Marx was reported as saying that the Catholic Church “has not always adopted the right tone” toward LGBT people. He went on to add that, while he cannot officially bless a union between two people of the same sex, he can (and implicitly will) pray for their relationship if asked.
In 2014, Marx responded in an interview to the issues under consideration at the Synod of Bishops concerning the Church's treatment of people that are gay: "I have the impression that we have a lot of work to do in the theological field, not only related to the question of divorce, but also the theology of marriage. I am astonished that some can say, “Everything is clear” on this topic. Things are not clear. It is not about church doctrine being determined by modern times. It is a question of aggiornamento, to say it in a way that the people can understand, and to always adapt our doctrine to the Gospel, to theology, in order to find in a new way the sense of what Jesus said, the meaning of the tradition of the church and of theology and so on. There is a lot to do". He went on to say, "Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives. How can I say that this has no value?"
At the 2015 Synod in Rome, Marx urged his fellow bishops that, " We must make it clear that we do not only judge people according to their sexual orientation...If a same-sex couple are faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life God won't say 'All that doesn't interest me, I'm only interested in your sexual orientation.'"
Marx supports legal recognition for same-sex unions arguing that there are positive elements that can be found and supported in same-sex relationships, but is against same-sex marriage. In 2015, in Germany he stated: "Human dignity is not state-made, it’s not made by the constitution, which is why neither the constitution nor the state can pass judgment on it... And this also applies to the topic of marriage and the family". In June 2016, on a visit to Ireland, Cardinal Marx argued that the church and society had harmed gay people in the past and should publicly apologise.
In July 2017, in an interview with Augsberger Algemeine in Germany, Marx commented on the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Germany and said that it was not a concern for the church. He said that church teaching cannot be moulded into the laws of a secular state and he said: "In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone". He also lamented that the Catholic church in Germany had not done more in the past to fight against laws that criminalized homosexual activity in Germany.
Marx is an active opponent of abortion in Germany and has also spoken against physician-assisted suicide as well as embryonic stem cell research. On the occasion of the 2015 pro-life march in Germany, he publicly stated： “as Christians we share the conviction that the inviolable dignity of every human being has its origin in God, the Creator of all life.”
However, he has been criticized by some anti-abortion groups for signalling his approval to issue the 'morning-after pill' in German Catholic hospitals, which could potentially destroy a viable embryo.
In a visit to Ireland in June 2016, Cardinal Marx claimed that Christianity is the 'religion of the future'. He quoted Cardinal Ratzinger's (later Pope Benedict XVI) speech in Paris in 2000, when Ratzinger said that Christianity was not a faith that dealt with 'magic things' but with the real world. Cardinal Marx claimed that Christianity had a role in making the world a better place. He noted that in past times there were occasions when the church was on 'the wrong side' of various issues, but that in the future it must rely on its own social doctrine and Christian anthropology as a source from which to help make a new and better society, which also embraced the marginalized. He also expressed concern over a tendency by some to want to go back to a dream of society where things were 'more cohesive and simpler', and that future debates would be about identity and security rather than freedom
In the fall of 2016, Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder made statements that the church had to mind its own affairs. Cardinal Marx disagreed and claimed that politics needed the guidance of religion.
On the occasion of the death of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in June 2017, Cardinal Marx praised Kohl (who was a practicing Catholic) as an example of Christian witness in the modern world. Marx praised Kohl's work for German reunification, work for democracy and human rights, work for European integration and his work to create a social market economy in Germany based on church teaching. Marx said of Kohl: "the Church in Germany is grateful for the Christian testimony of Helmut Kohl. Wherever the values of a free society were trampled on in the world, he pledged that these values be respected. He wanted and knew how to show his Christian convictions in Europe. "
Cardinal Marx has consistently criticized European policies towards asylum seekers, claiming that they keep away people who need help. On the occasion of the tragic sinking of a migrant boat near Lampedusa in 2013, he said:
For years, we have followed a policy which has prevented those in need reaching our shores. This is not the kind of Europe we want. To claim asylum is a fundamental human right which we must respect. Refugees and asylum seekers deserve to be treated humanely.
On September 5, 2015, Cardinal Marx along with Lutheran bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, members of the clergy and crowds of Germans enthusiastically welcomed Syrian refugees coming to Germany at the Munich train station.
He has also spoken out against xenophobia and violence done against migrants in Germany. He claimed that Catholics are not allowed to be xenophobic.
In September 2015, he chaired a meeting of COMECE joined by the Conference of European Churches, which had been convened to discuss the Syrian migrant crisis in Europe. Marx made clear that, "Those who enter Europe, must not be afraid to drown or suffocate. And they must get a fair asylum process. These are minimum standards which must apply throughout Europe."
Following the 2015-2016 New Year's Eve attacks on women in Germany and the discovery that most of the violence was carried out by people from the Middle East or North Africa who entered Germany as refugees, Cardinal Marx condemned the violence: “these new forms of violence and especially the inhumane treatment of women cannot be tolerated” and he demanded that “all the different forces in society must work together to prevent this type of incidents and guarantee safety.”
On January 31, 2016, in the face of growing backlash against the open-door policies for refugees, Cardinal Marx spoke at a forum in Berlin urging Europe to remain open to Muslim migrants, urging Chancellor Merkel's coalition to stand firm in their resolve to allow the migrants in and at the same time calling on other nations in Europe to take on their quota of refugees.
On February 6, 2016, he remarked that Germany cannot take in all of the world's refugees and that there needs to be a reduction in the number coming in. There had already been 1.1 million migrants entering Germany in the past year up to that point, and an unknown number yet to come. He said that in order to help refugees, it needed not only "charity but also reason". At the same time, Marx also criticized the anti-foreigner sentiments growing in Germany that had been spreading in society.
In September 2016, an aide to the head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party in Germany made negative comments about refugees, claiming it was hard to deport them. Cardinal Marx criticized the remarks and said that politicians should by finding ways to integrate them, rather than get rid of them.
At the 2016 St Michael's reception in Berlin, Cardinal Marx addressed a crowd of 800, including Chancellor Merkel, and praised Germany's policy of welcoming in refugees. He also warned against nationalism and stated: 'Patriotism yes, we love our homeland, but any form of nationalism must be opposed."
In February 2017, Cardinal Marx praised Chancellor Angela Merkel over her policy towards refugees: “In a critical phase of Europe, you have set an important sign of humanity and given an example of Christian love of neighbor in politics,” he said, adding, “she knows that Christians must not simply let the world run its course. We have helped shape it!” Cardinal Marx also criticized populist movements, stating that “a retreat to the national, to the closed is no Christian option.”
Cardinal Marx has asserted that climate change and the refugee crisis are the two biggest problems facing Europe. He has repeated Pope Francis' words in asserting the existence of an 'ecological debt' of richer more developed nations to poorer less developed nations. He has said that the church can learn from the world in 'recognizing the signs of the times'.
Cardinal Marx has served as the representative of the church in Germany in other parts of the world.
In 2015, he visited the United States, including the US-Mexican border. He spoke about this experience in 2016, by saying, 'When I visited the U.S.-Mexican border last year and saw the Mexico-United States barrier with its series of walls, I thought to myself that cannot be the future of European borders'
In January 2016, he visited Viet Nam and had a meeting with the chief of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, a communist party umbrella-organization that has control of all social organizations within Viet Nam. The President of the Front stated that relations between Viet Nam and the Holy See had greatly improved, and that the church in Viet Nam was engaging in many activities that benefited Vietnamese society. Cardinal Marx expressed his hope that the Front would assist in developing Catholicism in Viet Nam and facilitating humanitarian activities among the Catholic community.
During the same visit, Cardinal Marx was refused permission to travel to Vinh diocese, without any stated reason from official sources. It may have been related to the cases of religious persecution that had occurred in Vinh against the clergy and laity of the diocese. Cardinal Marx said that "no political and economic organizations can injure religious freedom".
On Christ the King Sunday 2015, marking the 50th anniversary of the exchange of letters between German and Polish bishops in 1965, German and Polish bishops met at the famous monstery of Jasna Góra in Poland. Cardinal Marx gave the homily at the Mass and the presider was Polish Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki.
They signed a document calling to together build a Europe based on Christianity and that Europe still had not fully recovered from the wounds of its past, and they declared their willingness to do more work for reconciliation. They also noted with grief about the situation in the Ukraine, where its territorial integrity had been breached by separatists backed by Russia. They also praised the work of Polish bishops 50 years ago, who had been the first to reach out to German bishops, even though their nation had been the victim of the war. They also called for Christian to reach out to the refugees from other parts of the world and to protect all human life from conception until natural death.
In September 2016, Cardinal Marx and Lutheran bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm jointly created a document titled 'Healing Memories - Witnessing to Jesus Christ', ahead of the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant reformation, calling for healing of past wounds between Catholics and Protestants. The document read, 'A look at history reveals the suffering and wounds that Christians have inflicted on each other. This shocks and shames us...We see it as an exceptional moment of our fellowship, after centuries of mutual separation, to mark a Reformation anniversary with such readiness to engage in forgiveness and a new beginning."
They planned a mutual ecumenical meeting at Hildesheim on March 11, 2017 to mark the anniversary. Speaking of this, the two bishops said, "In it we will confess our guilt before God on behalf of our churches, asking God and each other for forgiveness and committing ourselves before God to continue to deepen our togetherness."
Marx said, in speaking of Luther："We as Catholics can now clearly say that Luther never wanted to create a new Church."
In February 2017, Marx attended an ecumenical meeting of Catholics and Lutherans in Stuttgart to release revised versions of German translations of the Catholic and Lutheran bibles. At the event, Marx said, "I am very pleased that we are placing God's word in our midst in such an ecumenically meaningful year as 2017, in which we together recall the events of the Reformation 500 years ago and celebrate them today as a celebration of Christ, to place God's word in our midst."
Cardinal Marx has taught that Catholic doctrine remains the same, but the church's understanding of it changes over time. He has claimed that theology and doctrine are not the same, and that theology can change, but doctrine can't. He has said that "truth does not change but we gain greater understanding of the truth as we grow... We don't own the truth, the truth owns us, since it is a person we encounter, not something we possess."
While at the 2015 Synod of the family, he contrasted Pope Pius IX's encyclical Casti Connubi and Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation 'Familiaris Consortio' as evidence of the church's living tradition.
On December 6–8, 2015, Cardinal Marx hosted a conference in Munich composed of around 200 theologians as well as Cardial Karl Lehmann, that was entitled: "To Open Up the Council – Theology and Church in Light of the Second Vatican Council". The resolutions at the council called for church reform, including greater participation of the laity, more de-centralization within the church, 'full freedom' for theology and upholding the freedom of conscience and expression among laity. It claimed that the church had abandoned its former position of claiming to be exclusivesly-correct, and that ecumenism had made great advances, such that it was now recognized that confessional differences among different churches were no longer important and that ecumenism was about building unity while preserving the separation. It also condemned 'fundamentalism' or 'religious self-isolation'. At the conference Cardinal Marx said, "When we look back at the council texts, at the spirit of the council and the theological debates that took place, we must of course be deeply grateful but we must not stop there. … The council gave us the gift of new departures which we can and must take up in a new way today...The church is not only a teaching but a learning church. It is open to history and to the signs of the times."
Cardinal Marx has frequently supported Pope Francis' call for a more de-centralized church and a conversion of the Papacy to give more doctrinal authority to local bishops. In relation to the Synod on the Family, he previously stated, "We are not just a subsidiary of Rome...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.”
In March 2017, Cardinal Marx noted that the Archdiocese of Munich, despite having a massive Catholic population, had only produced one candidate for the priesthood. He spoke to the plenary council of the diocese and stated that he believed that the church should open the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood. The proposal had earlier been suggested by Pope Francis in a different context (the Pope had suggested the possibility of married priests for remote parts of the world where priests were lacking). Cardinal Marx also proposed that rather than combining parishes that a priest could not be found for, the church could instead appoint lay people to run the parishes that lacked their own permanent clergy.
In June 2017, Cardinal Marx called for the global church to admit more women into top leadership positions. He said "And that is why I want to emphasize that positions of responsibility and executive positions in the Church that are open to lay people must be shared by both men and women,”
In April 2017, during the Good Friday service held in Munich, Cardinal Marx lamented the persecution of Christians that occurred in the world, especially in nations that had been shaped by Islam: "there can be no peace between religions,” he said, unless “all human beings are permitted to live their faith and be respected in it.”
In June 2017, during an interview Marx claimed that religious leaders needed to be on guard to make sure that they did not provide a kind of pious framework from which religious extremists could perform violence. He indicated that both Catholics and Muslims needed to think about this. He said, "Religions simply must ask themselves—and permit themselves to be asked—whether by the way they are being interpreted or lived, they are contributing toward justifying or even fueling conflicts"
Retired archbishop Jan Paul Lenga of Karaganda, Kazakhstan said of him "There was Marx, Karl Marx. And if present Marx says similar things, then there is no real difference.”
During the 2015 Synod on the family, Marx faced opposition from other bishops for supporting Cardinal Kasper's proposal that the rules be relaxed to allow divorced and remarried couples to receive Holy Communion. Divisions were particularly arose acute between the group of bishops from Germany (notably Marx), and conservatives such as Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. Marx accused Pell of trying to foster division by making it seem as if there were two camps within the Church, one around Pope Benedict XVI and the other around Cardinal Kasper. A spokesman for Pell welcomed the suggestion that Marx saw no differences between the two groups.
Cardinal Marx was indirectly criticized by retired Pope Benedict in a 2016 book of interviews with him. The occasion was related to how, shortly before Benedict's resignation in 2013, Marx had criticized him by saying he had turned the roman curia into his own court. In response to this, Benedict said "I have always lived simply, always, ever since my childhood." The retired Pope's personal secretary Georg Gänswein also stated "One should be careful of making statements or valuations of a situation that one does not know well."
German media reported that an unidentified priest in the diocese of Trier had allegedly sexually abused minors, and that this priest was not removed by Cardinal Marx when he was bishop of Trier, even though he had been made aware of the case. Cardinal Marx's spokesperson claimed that Marx had acted with the relevant guidelines in place at the time. It was further claimed by the media that the priest continued to serve in Trier until 2015 and his abuse also allegedly continued up until that point. The rules governing these cases were reformed in 2010 and 2013, and the spokesperson claimed that had the new rules been in place at the time, the church would have acted differently.
Cardinal Marx launched in October 2008 a book ("Das Kapital: A Plea for Man"), named after the work by Karl Marx, that critiques capitalism. Reinhard Marx said the current worldwide financial crisis required a "fundamental social debate" and raised questions about the capacity of contemporary economies to "ensure the welfare of the world."