Walter Mixa, the Bishop of Augsburg, Germany has tendered his resignation, his office confirmed on Thursday. In his request to the pope, the 68-year-old said he would be resigning both from his bishopric in Augsburg and as the Bishop of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces. The ongoing public discussion about his character over the past few weeks had weighed heavily upon priests and the faithful in his bishopric, his letter said. The Augsburger Allgemeine and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspapers reported Thursday that the letter had been sent the previous evening.
With his resignation Bishop Mixa wanted to prevent further damage to the Church and to make a new start possible, the press release from the bishopric of Augsburg stated.
"Today I ask again for forgiveness from all those whom I may have treated unjustly, and all those I have caused to grieve," Mixa said in his letter to the pope. "I take these steps with unshakeable trust in God's mercy and hope confidently that our Father in Heaven guides the Church in Augsburg into a good future. I thank my brothers in priestly service and all of the believers for their loyalty and their solidarity and wish them all God's blessing."
Bishop Accused of Punching Children
Mixa also promised to help with a further, full explanation of all the accusations leveled against him. It seems certain that the pope will accept his resignation. Mixa actually submitted his resignation to the pope once before, when he was unsuccessful in becoming leader of the Catholic Church in Germany.
Previously, Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung had reported allegations that the Augsburg bishop had beaten youth who lived at an orphanage in the Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen when he was priest there in the 1970s. The paper has six declarations under oath of incidents of physical abuse, including slaps and punches to the head. "He punched me in the face with full force," the paper quotes a former resident, Jutta Stadler, now 47, as saying.
Despite the fact that Mixa had earlier denied any violence at all toward children, over the past few weeks the bishop had come to admit that, as a priest earlier in his career, he may have slapped some children in an orphanage. He played the slaps down as simply playful fisticuffs, something that was completely normal at the time. It was only on Tuesday that he was clear about asking for forgiveness.
Orphanage Funds Spent on Art, Wine and Carpets
Besides the accusations of violence against children, there are now also other complaints about Mixa. During his time as parish priest and head of the board of trustees for the orphanage's foundation, a considerable amount of money was allegedly spent on expensive art works, carpets, wine, furniture and Mixa's bishop's ring. He is accused of misappropriation of the orphanage foundation's funds. Under pressure to clarify the expenditures, Mixa convened an investigation earlier this week. Now a Munich law firm appointed by the Church is working together with the local government to probe the allegations.
German Family Minister Kristina Schröder welcomed the Augsburg bishop's letter of resignation. On Thursday the politician, a member of Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), said in an interview on German public television station ZDF that she could understand the criticism being leveled at the bishop and that she respected his decision to step down.
Alois Glück, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZDK), described Mixa's resignation letter as an inevitable consequence of current events. The various accusations had seen the Church leader lose his credibility and had become a burden for the entire Catholic Church, Glück told German public radio station Deutschlandfunk.
'A Relief for the Catholic Church'
"This is a relief for the Catholic Church in Germany, it had become a heavy burden," Glück said on Thursday on Bavarian public radio station Bayerischen Rundfunk. Bishop Mixa had maneuvered himself into a difficult situation, Glück said. "A very open attitude from the beginning might have allowed things to develop differently." It was a "personal tragedy," he noted.
Glück was also of the opinion that the pope would accept Mixa's resignation. "Anything else would be inconceivable," he said. Glück said the Church is currently suffering from a "huge loss of confidence, the likes of which have not been seen for hundreds of years."
On Wednesday, Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German Bishop's Conference, the governing body of German Catholics, publicly suggested that Mixa take a temporary leave of absence from his post, a step that is unprecedented in the recent history of the Catholic Church in the country. It is not implausible that Zollitsch's suggestion would have been coordinated with the Vatican.
Zollitsch also said that he and Munich Archbishop Reinhard Marx had spoken to Mixa several times in recent days. "Together we considered how, in this difficult time for the bishopric of Augsburg, he could contribute to calming the situation down. And whether a time of spiritual retreat and geographical distance might not be helpful in encouraging an atmosphere of greater objectivity while the necessary clarifications -- the clarifications that he also wants -- are worked through," Zollitsch said. Taking time out would allow Mixa "to gather his strength after several very heated weeks and to consider the events in peace," Zollitsch explained.
Pope Vows to Bring Abusers Within Church to Justice
Calls for Mixa's resignation had recently been getting louder and the pressure upon him and on the Catholic Church had grown. Even representatives of local parishioners as well as the ZDK had distanced themselves from the bishop, who belongs to the more conservative camp of Catholics and who, over the past few years, has been one of the staunchest opponents of liberal elements within modern Catholicism.
On Wednesday, the pope reaffirmed the Church's intention to take action against the sexual abuse of minors from within its ranks. As a result of his meeting with eight men who were victims of sexual abuse in an orphanage on the Mediterranean island of Malta over the weekend, the pope said, "I shared with them their suffering and emotionally I prayed with them, promising them action on the part of the Church."
The visit to Malta was the pope's first international trip since the sexual abuse scandal that has tipped the Catholic Church into crisis, broke in Germany. A statement from the Vatican said that, after his meeting with the sexual abuse victims in Malta, the pope had "assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future."