German Bishops Wade into Party Politics

Not content to only promote heresy, now German bishops are bringing their non-Catholic sensibility to the realm of politics.

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American English speakers are familiar with the axiomatic question Is the pope Catholic? Applied instead to the bishops of Germany, the answer isn’t obvious.

The recent announcement of a commission for “queer” pastoral care is the latest in a long line of heretical ventures from Luther’s homeland. From a theological perspective, there is little to add to assessments like Dr. Regis Martin’s here. However, when these heterodox bishops venture into the realm of secular party politics, they ought to be criticized accordingly. American English speakers are familiar with the axiomatic question Is the pope Catholic? Applied instead to the bishops of Germany, the answer isn’t obvious.Tweet This

In the final press conference of the 2024 Spring Plenary Assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing asserted that German Catholics are not permitted to vote for the surging Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany—AfD) party. The statement decried “right-wing extremism” and alerted Catholics to “parties [that] threaten democracy, particularly the Alternative for Germany party and the milieu behind it.” Bätzing added, “Voting for such a party means going against the basic values of human coexistence and democracy in our country.” 

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The statement marks an escalation of the German Church’s attempts to delegitimize AfD. Last year, the head of the lay Committee of German Catholics demanded that AfD supporters be banned from all positions within the Church. The committee “is by no means the result of elections, but is a club of functionaries who mostly live off Church taxes full-time [and] cannot be placed on the primary job market,” retorted Catholic EU parliamentarian Maximilian Krah, a representative of AfD.

Responding to the bishops’ recent statement, AfD Bundestag parliamentarian Gerrit Huy asserted the bishops’ conference had determined “they do not like the AfD and want to make this dislike binding for all German Catholics.” 

The overreach corresponds to a debate that has featured in German politics for much of the last year: the prospect of banning AfD. Representatives of Germany’s largest establishment parties have supported the idea, and state security services have gained approval to spy on the party. Earlier this year, a piece from the German activist outlet Correctivalleged a secret meeting of mostly AfD functionaries to concoct a “master plan” for the mass deportation of immigrants; media outlets spun stories of “Wannsee Conference 2.0” (a reference to the 1942 conference in which Nazi leaders established the “Final Solution” toward Europe’s Jews), and nearly one million demonstrators reportedly took to the streets. Correctiv later adjusted key details of the story, but the damage was done.

Catholics outside the German-speaking world, even those inclined to support AfD policies, might note these developments and assume something sordid is afoot. This has been the default narrative of the European political and journalistic establishment for decades, and various nationalist, sovereigntist, and populist parties have had to overcome the liberally deployed “far-right” moniker and ubiquitous “1933” discourse. In countries like France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, this narrative has slowly eroded with the passage of time and the manifest destructiveness of certain establishment policies.

Germany, which grapples ceaselessly with ideas of identity and historical memory, presents a unique case. Even the hint of affinity for the right has been politically ruinous in the postwar decades. When assessing AfD, establishment politicians practically fly the time machine to 1933 on autopilot. 

Yet, the AfD policy platform warrants a look. It isn’t particularly extreme. The party calls for bans on foreign funding and operation of mosques and full public veiling. Such laws are already in force in other European countries like France, Switzerland, and Denmark. Its assertions that multiculturalism and the European Union are failed projects (former Chancellor Angela Merkel openly admitted the former) are mainstream ideas among average people, even if they aren’t in Berlin or Brussels. There is little, if anything, that a Catholic should find objectively immoral.

Contrast this with Die Linke (The Left), which sports a platform utterly contemptuous of Catholic social teaching. More importantly, Catholics can note such realities among the parties that reliably alternate in power in Berlin. The Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union party coalition nominally maintains a Christian identity but has experienced infighting on issues like abortion and marriage redefinition and failed to contest liberalization of these practices during its last stint in power. The Social Democrats and Greens promote social policies standard for their party types, and politicians from the former recently disparaged the Catholic faith of Merkel’s successor in party leadership. None of these parties, of course, have drawn the German bishops’ condemnation.

Despite all the democracy posturing from the bishops and the Bundestag, the German political establishment has offered little choice on key issues. Merkel unilaterally decided the outcome of the 2015-16 migration crisis, which radically expedited the country’s demographic (and religious) trends. Economic data suggest Germany is entering a recession, with environmental policies a primary culprit. On issues like these, the establishment parties allow no, well, alternative for Germany.

Finally, a note on that 1933 discourse: it is indeed a perilous time for German Jews again, but not because of AfD or its “milieu.” Since at least 2019, German government officials have advised Jews not to wear kippahs in public, in a nod to safety. In late November 2023, a German federal agency reported a 320 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the country after the October 7 attacks in Israel. When a perpetrator in an anti-Semitic crime is unknown, German criminal statistics assign blame to a right-wing culprit by default; though they officially resort to such obfuscations, Germans know who is really behind such crimes. In peak political irony, the systematic exclusion of AfD has meant inaction on the very behaviors German politicians claim to abhor. 

After devoting several paragraphs to belittling and delegitimizing AfD supporters, the bishops’ statement concludes that “the Church must not avoid dialog with people who are receptive to such extremist messages,” which suggests the German bishops are no better at their adopted vocation of politics than their spiritual one of shepherding the faithful. 

These days, the German bishops are provocative and political. But are they Catholic?


  • Michael O’Shea

    Michael O’Shea is an American-Polish writer and a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute. He is active in the pro-life movement in the Pittsburgh area.

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