Cardinal Reinhard Marx: A Man to Watch?

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Cardinal Reinhard Marx: A Man to Watch?

What role will the man labeled as ‘the German pope’ and ‘Europe’s super bishop’ play in the Catholic Church?

The archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is emerging as one of the Catholic Church’s most powerful figures—perhaps second only to the pope.

Marx has risen quickly through the Catholic hierarchy. He was Benedict xvi’s surprise pick as archbishop of the former pope’s hometown and leader of the church in Germany’s Catholic heartland, Munich, Bavaria, in 2007. Benedict then elevated him to a cardinal in 2010, at the age of 57, making him the youngest cardinal at the time.

But Marx has achieved especial prominence under Pope Francis. Marx is perhaps the best known of the “G-8,” or Council of Cardinals—eight of the church’s top leaders that Pope Francis chose to advise him on how to reform the church’s government.

One of the pope’s main focus so far has been economic reform. His Evangelii Gaudium, the subject of a recent Trumpet cover story, called for the creation of a new Catholic economic system.

This is Marx’s area of expertise. Perhaps because of his name, Marx is the church’s most outspoken preacher of Catholic social and economic doctrine. In 2008, he published a book, Das Kapital: A Plea for Man, where he made the same kind of criticism of the modern economy that Francis made in Evangelii Gaudium. The financial crisis of 2008 meant that the world needs a “fundamental social debate,” Marx said.

A few years later, in 2012, he urged Europe to move “beyond capitalism” during a speech titled “Economic Crisis as an Opportunity of Change.”

“The state is not a bad thing, as Aristotle told his disciples,” he argued during a question and answer section of the speech, as he encouraged governments to play a stronger role in the economy.

When Pope Francis was accused of Marxism after publishing Evangelii Gaudium, Cardinal Marx leapt to his defense. In the church’s official L’Ossveratore Romano newspaper, the cardinal confronted the accusation by saying that the pope’s words were based on Catholic social doctrine and tradition.

Marx is also one of the best placed men in the Catholic Church to put his idea on economics into practice. He is the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (comece) and so is the top catholic official responsible for engaging with the European Union.

Marx’s star has risen even further in the past week. On March 8, the pope appointed him head of the new Council for the Economy, designed to oversee the Vatican’s economic management. The Catholic Church’s descriptions of the council seem quite vague, and it’s too early to say, in practice, what the council will actually do.

Then, on March 12, Marx was elected the head of the German Bishops’ Conference—where he used to be the head of the Committee for Social Issues. After his appointment, Germany’s Stern magazine heralded him as “The German Pope,” writing that “[w]ith his election as head of the German bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx has gained an unprecedented abundance of power in Germany.” Die Welt called him “Europe’s Super Bishop” and “the new strongman of the Catholic Church in Germany.”

“After years of crises and the meek dealings with Rome,” continued Die Welt, the German bishops now want to “play internationally again.” Tages Spiegel called him “a man of action” and a “decision maker,” adding that he was one of the few German bishops who “thinks politically” and is not afraid to get involved in politics.

After his election, Marx said he wanted to raise the voice of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, he said, has given the church “new momentum, and that has to grow.”

Like the current pope, Marx defies the quick and easy left/right labels that are easy to stick on bishops. He is theologically conservative and somewhat of an authoritarian, but not extreme in either of these areas. Economically, he gives a very similar message to the pope, but without the same display of poverty.

The Trumpet has long forecast that Europe will soon embrace a Catholic economic system. In this way, the Catholic Church will play a major role in fixing Europe’s economic crisis. The adoption of that Catholic system will be a major world event. Could Reinhard Marx play a major role in making that happen? He is exceptionally well placed to do so.

For more on the Catholic Church’s economic teachings and how they will soon affect Europe, read our article “Much More Than an Economic Plan” from the March 2014 edition of the Trumpet magazine.