Voices of the Times – 2019

Translated Jesuit articles from the 150-year old journal “Stimmen der Zeit” can help us understand fundamentalism, immigration, spirituality, sexual abuse, secularization, the role of the state and war and peace

Looking at the planet
By Klaus Mertes
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet,

A year ago, in December 2018, German astronaut Alexander Gerst was floating 400 kilometers above the Earth in the observation capsule of the International Space Station (ISS). The camera was pointed at him. The Earth could be seen in the background, white cloud fields on a light blue background. He spoke into the camera: “Dear grandchildren, when I look down at the planet like this, I think I owe you an apology.” His generation, he says, will probably not pass the earth on to future generations in the best condition. And then he enumerates: Unrestrained deforestation, waste in the oceans, mineral resources that people are using up far too quickly, senseless wars being waged down there on earth. Finally, he encourages the grandchildren to do better, to live their dreams and – as he literally concludes – “never to grow up completely”.

The first thing worth considering in this scene is the moment of emotion. Alexander Gerst is moved by the sight of the planet’s beauty, but also by the realization of his vulnerability and injury. At the same time, his emotion leads him to love his grandchildren, who live on this beautiful planet and will live on even longer than him, the rather old man. The view of the planet as a whole and the heartfelt view of the grandchildren belong together, complement and strengthen each other.

I hope I am not taking Alexander Gerst or St. Ignatius too seriously when Gerst’s view reminds me of Ignatius of Loyola’s reflection on the Incarnation (Spiritual Exercises 101 ff.). First the view of the whole: “Consider … how the three divine persons looked at the whole surface or roundness of the whole world full of people.” They too are moved “when they saw that all were descending to hell” and decide “that the second person should become man in order to save the human race. And so, when the fullness of time has come, they send the holy angel Gabriel to our Lady.”

The “Mistress” refers to Mary. She stands for the other side of the contrast, for the tiny town of Nazareth. This is just as important as the “roundness of the whole world”. In the second step of the exercise, the person observing is to “put together” what they see “in the room”: “Seeing the great comprehensiveness and roundness of the world, in which so many and different peoples dwell; likewise afterwards” – and in contrast to this – “the house and rooms of our Lady in the city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee.” Attention to the great and the small belong together. This is the “divine” way of perception. You can also make it your own as a human being – at least by practicing it. In a commemorative publication 100 years after the founding of the Jesuit order, there is a famous dictum about Ignatius that Hölderlin prefaced his Hyperion with: “Non coerceri maximo tamen contineri minimo divinum est – not to be limited by the greatest, yet to be embraced by the smallest, that is divine.” That is the point.

And then comes Alexander Gerst’s astonishing final exhortation: “Never grow up!” Maintaining the child in the adult person has to do with allowing oneself to be seized by the whole before going into the details. And at the same time of the tiny things. The incarnation of God in the child emphasizes and ennobles the childlike quality that all people can find in themselves if they only look deep enough behind the scenes of despair about themselves and the course of time: Hope against all hope (cf. Rom 4:18); hope that it is possible to leave a better planet to our great-grandchildren. Starting small and thinking big at the same time.

For several months now, young people have been taking to the streets to demonstrate for the preservation of the planet. People may have different opinions – from an educator’s point of view, I tend to look at it with concern – about how a 16-year-old girl has an emotional outburst in front of the world’s powerful in New York, the consequences of which she will have to live with for many decades to come. One might also argue – from the principal’s perspective, I hold on to the system of compulsory education – about how to deal appropriately with its breach, which is part of the provocative concept of “Fridays for Future”. If you see yourself as a hard-nosed politician, you might also point out with the usual “but, but” that many small steps are needed to reduce CO² emissions, which have to be painstakingly balanced and which have to be related to the tolerance limits of those primarily affected and to issues of justice in order not to have a counterproductive effect. This is all true. But without the basis of emotion and childlike hope for the whole of the world, it is not possible. That’s why the exercise is more relevant today than ever: contemplating “the roundness of the whole world full of people”, and also “the room in the city of Nazareth”.

    Klaus Mertes

    Superior of the Ignatius House in Berlin, editor of the cultural magazine STIMMEN DER ZEIT, studied classical philology and Slavic studies in Bonn and, after joining the Jesuit order, philosophy in Munich and theology in Frankfurt. He has worked as a teacher since 1990, first in Hamburg from 1990-1993 and then at Canisius College in Berlin from 1994-2011, where he was rector from 2000. From 2011 to 2020, he was Director of the International Jesuit College in Sankt Blasien.

Greetings from the future: secularization and desecularization processes in the trendy Netherlands

In one of the most demonstrably liberal and happy countries in the world, where many have everything and could achieve even more, some have experienced a “specific too little” or received an answer to a question that they did not have before, writes Jan Loffeld. In the Netherlands – the “spearhead of secularization” – they find God. Loffeld, Professor of Practical Theology in Utrecht, analyzes the potential of this situation for Germany as well.
By Jan Loffeld
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/12-2019/schoene-gruesse-aus-der-zukunft-saekularisierungs-und-desaekularisierungsprozesse-im-trendland-niederlande/.]

Last fall, the Netherlands experienced a new missionary journey: Six young Dominicans walked across the country to the large port city of Rotterdam to revitalize a monastery in the middle of “Manhattan on the Meuse”, as Rotterdam is popularly known. The young monks were accompanied on internet blogs, by the media and by some who joined them in stages. A few years ago, the Dutch Dominican Province was still to be dissolved – just like a Benedictine abbey in the east of the country in the 1990s, whose aging brothers were to be split up among other monasteries. Twenty years later, thirteen monks from a wide variety of backgrounds live there, most of whom joined at the age of over 40. The abbot has to say to each new arrival that he does not know whether the convent can afford another monk economically.

Another example is our faculty, the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology, which was created in 2007 from a merger of the Utrecht and Tilburg faculties at Tilburg University. At the time, it was thought that religious studies faculties would be strengthened in the face of denominational theology, but after twelve years the opposite has become apparent. Contrary to predictions at the time, the faculty is consolidating extremely well thanks to an annual increase in the number of students and doctoral candidates. In the 2019/20 academic year, over 70 new Bachelor’s students enrolled at the faculty and associated university of applied sciences for “Catholic Theology” – in a country where religion is not a regular subject at schools. In a quick survey at the start of their studies, they cited the denominational ties of the institutions as the main reason for their choice of study. Theological degree courses are offered in Dutch and English. The Dutch student segment in particular shows an astonishing diversity: young non-denominational students with a general interest in religion, Old Catholics and Protestants whose churches recognize this course, Catholics and converts who were baptized as young people or adults, as well as students from “good Catholic homes” or part-time volunteers from parishes. Admittedly, all these phenomena are still too recent to speak of “groene blaadjes” (green leaves). But they are nevertheless remarkable. Above all, the fact that they mostly develop far away from pastoral strategy planning, because the church in the Netherlands simply lacks the personnel and money for this.

The other image of the Netherlands as one of the most secular and at the same time happiest countries in the world is, of course, also true. In their international study “Religion in the Modern Age”, sociologists of religion Detlef Pollack and Gergely Rosta use our neighbouring country as an outstanding example of secularization processes when they title the relevant chapter: “Religion in free fall: the Netherlands “1. In June 2019, the Dutch news journal NOS published corresponding data: It compares the number of first communicants across the country between 2003 and 2019. The result is remarkable: while over 40,000 children received their first Holy Communion in 2003, in 2019 the figure is just over 17,000. The figures have been falling steadily over the years – with the birth rate even increasing in some years during this period. At the same time, the number of people who still believe in a higher power at all (often no longer distinguishing between a personal God and more agnostic ideas) has fallen to less than 50% of Dutch people over the last 15 years.2 Some people are very sceptical about the church and faith, while for others religion and the church are casually important or have not really been an issue for several generations. When they do, sometimes outdated judgments resurface or the reaction is limited to a friendly shrug of the shoulders. Others are interested because they only know people of faith from hearsay.

Secularization is therefore undoubtedly a mega-trend in the Netherlands, but by no means a universal trend. This is what makes the situation there so interesting. “Where there is Holland, there will eventually be all of Europe” – wrote an English journalist recently. The Netherlands could also prove to be a trend country when it comes to the development of religion and the church – as well as the dissolution of the traditional popular parties or innovations in climate protection, urban planning and digitalization.3 At least this is what the latest “Projection of church membership development in Germany until 2060” suggests.4
Causes of the Dutch soft secularization

When older people hear the keywords “theology” and “church” in the Netherlands, they tend to remember the time of the Council and the immediate post-Conciliar period. Then the name of the Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx comes up, the “Dutch Catechism” is mentioned, as well as the fact that the Dutch were the first to hold a national synod in Europe after the Council. After centuries of post-Reformation prohibition of the Catholic faith and the restoration of the hierarchy in the 19th century, this was preceded by the ultramontane-oriented “rich Roman life” within the “Catholic pillar”. Alongside the socialist, Protestant and liberal pillars, this was particularly influential in the south of the country “under the rivers”. It was not only from this “pillar” that the largest number of mercenaries came forward to defend the Papal States during the Risorgimento; a disproportionately high number of Dutch missionary and colonial bishops also took part in the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic Church owes many influential and internationally renowned personalities to Dutch Catholicism at this time, including Schillebeeckx, the moderator of the Council and Cardinal Archbishop of Utrecht, Bernard Alfrink, and the long-time Jesuit General Hans Kolvenbach.

But why has Catholic life in Holland collapsed faster than almost anywhere else over the past 50 years – and not just institutionally, but especially in terms of the relevance of faith and the transcendental interpretation of life?

At least two theories are being discussed. One states that it was primarily the church’s resistance to modernization and Roman centralism that alienated most Catholics from their church and thus from their faith.5 This explanation refers to the potential of the Pastoral Council at the end of the 1960s and the “Dutch Catechism” and the Roman reactions to it: the appointment of conservative, line-loyal bishops, the establishment of similar seminaries and a separate Roman Synod of Bishops in 1980 under the personal presidency of John Paul II on the situation of the Church in the Netherlands, which completely ignored the results of the Pastoral Council. This interpretation was pursued in particular by the “Acht Mei Beweging”, a nationwide reform group that was formed in the context of the Pope’s visit in 1985 to protest against too little say in the visit. The so-called “polarisatie” of Dutch Catholicism between conservative and liberal Catholics also emerged during this time. In the meantime, however, the situation has normalized: The “Acht Mei Beweging” had to disband due to a lack of young people who shared their issues, and the conservative Rolduc seminary in the diocese of Roermond is hardly attended by any local seminarians anymore. Today, Catholics are divided into a “disappointed old guard and a young guard”.6 The latter is particularly prevalent among migrants and 17-30 year olds.

In the interpretation of Dutch and international secularization processes, there is much to be said for the additional evidence of another thesis, which is also gaining ground in scientific evaluation.7 It puts the cart before the horse when it comes to the question of the significance of faith and religion in the lives of individuals: Most Dutch people ceased to be interested in intra-church disputes early on because they simply found other issues important for their lives and their way of making sense of things: consumption, travel, economic and professional success, the nuclear family and its happiness. There was simply a shift in attention, and the Christian religion eroded in an unprecedented way, as many Protestants or the Old Catholics of the “Union of Utrecht” not only experienced largely analogous processes, but also hardly benefited at all from the Catholic Church’s frustration, for example in the form of large conversion movements. With the exception of the rural areas of the Dutch “Bible Belt”, an erosion of faith is evident as a major trend on a broad front, which has painful consequences for a church organization with less money than in Germany. In the archdiocese of Utrecht, which is the metropolitan see of the Dutch ecclesiastical province and still holds the title of cardinal, 28 church buildings are expected to remain unconsecrated until 2028. At the same time, there are currently just as many – or as few – students preparing for the priesthood in the archdiocese with its almost 800,000 Catholics as in the neighboring German diocese of Münster, which has more than 1.8 million Catholics.

Interestingly, in his monumental work “A Secular Age”, Charles Taylor identifies early Dutch capitalism as a preparatory factor for a later, i.e. today dominant, “immanent frame”. According to Taylor, the devotio moderna from Deventer, which was at home in the Netherlands, reinforced the secularizing paradox of the Reformation described by Taylor: efforts were made to be even more consciously and resolutely Christian, all spirituality was turned inwards, tied to the individual and, in the long term, made it possible for transcendental references to become superfluous. As a result, people today have largely individualized the awareness of what they understand by happiness and fullness of life, and heaven, metaphysical truths and realities claimed as such are no longer part of it. As a result, religious indifference as a phenomenon is on the rise in the Netherlands – as in other countries – although it is most visible here due to the speed of the processes described and the institutional and ecclesiastical covers that still function elsewhere.

Thomás Halík has coined the term soft secularization for this type of Western European secularization, which differs from the strong secularization of Eastern Europe in that it was not preceded by the forced atheism of the former socialist states. However – and this is the curious thing – both processes come to the same result phenomenologically in the medium to long term. Apparently, the immanent frame inferred by Taylor is deeply anchored in the genome of our cultures and coercive atheism has only accelerated a development that seems to occur almost automatically elsewhere. In contrast, if one compares current sociological data on religion and its trends, the churches seem powerless: even where pastoral care is perceived as high quality, these processes are very often stronger. Sister churches such as the Old Catholics, who have long since fulfilled the demands for reform – such as the Eight Mei Movement – also find themselves in the midst of these developments. Today, despite the continuing downward trend, Catholics are (still) the largest religious community in a country that used to be predominantly Protestant or Calvinist. Muslims, with just over 800,000, are certainly present in the cities, although no more than 500 Dutch people convert to Islam each year. The largest, youngest and fastest growing group are the non-denominational.

Renaissance of secularization-theoretical approaches

These correlations can be seen, among other things, in a more recent classification, as currently undertaken by the Dutch-Belgian sociologist of religion Staf Hellemans. He divides the academic discussion of secularization into four phases: From the 19th century to 1960 as a preparatory period, there is a peak phase of classical secularization theory during the 1960s to the end of the 1970s, which is followed by a period of criticism after 1980. It was thought that religion was becoming privatized and individualized and that Europe was the secular exception – especially compared to North America or Asia. Since 2015, Hellemans has been marking a resurgence of secularization theory in an international comparison – both within Europe and globally – albeit in a new guise. He cites Latin America and Japan as examples of this. This global secularization is characterized by a significant increase in the number of nones, i.e. non-denominational and non-religious people around the world.

The following applies: “Therefore, the privatization thesis, which assumes that religion is still practiced behind the front door, is not correct. “8 At the same time: “The old secularization thesis only saw a decline and greatly underestimated the religious renewals in the midst of modern coexistence. […] The fourth phase of secularization theory should therefore not be seen as a return or an extension of the second phase in terms of content. It contains new and unique central challenges. “9

These developments affect not only all continents and their religions, but of course also all churches. In recent sociology of religion, the already classic seekers, i.e. religiously unaffiliated seekers, are joined internationally by the type of nones, which interestingly goes hand in hand with an age gap between over and under forty-year-olds.10 This is also a previously unknown phenomenon in sociology of religion.11 This means that the “nones” are also on the rise globally, young, mostly urban-digitally oriented and significantly less religious than their parents and grandparents were at their age. Hellemans describes the plurality within which this phenomenon is located:

“This new phase is characterized by a small, sometimes turbulent religious field, and also by old and new branches of the classical world religions. […] Outside the religious field, this new phase is characterized by a relevant quasi-religious offering. “12

With such phenomena, the irreversibility of which is supported by many factors, the so-called “Constantinian Formation” is coming to an end in Europe and constellations are apparently reaching a threshold worldwide that are associated with the “Axis Era” in terms of cultural theory.13 If these observations are correct, then all of the world’s religions are undergoing an unprecedented process of transformation. One of the fundamental questions posed by the aforementioned Charles Taylor in this context is: How can the immanent framework remain open? It undoubtedly proves to be a fundamental question of theology and Christianity in a country like the Netherlands – but probably also far beyond that.

When transcendence disappears

Is there a ‘solution’ to this situation? An adjustment screw that provides a remedy? The challenge seems to be that there probably isn’t one. If we are indeed dealing with tectonic shifts in the cultural framework, this at least can be cited as a reason why, for example, “passing on the faith” or preaching in Germany seems to be less “successful”, even with high “quality” and well-trained specialist personnel, as well as in the midst of a multitude of church institutions and efforts that are certainly unique in history. Certainly, there are enough examples of low pastoral “quality”, and there is no doubt that the so-called scandals are an important factor in the alienation of many people from the church and religion. However, on closer inspection, these crisis phenomena do not fully explain the fact that the erosion of religion has been visible in many places in Europe since the 1930s.14 It therefore also appears to be a crisis of relevance of the classical understanding of transcendence-related religion and, for Christianity in particular, a “crisis of relevance of the Gospel” of a “life in abundance” – at least insofar as transcendence references (salvation, grace, revelation) are constitutive for this.15

Such processes are reinforced by church misconduct – undoubtedly justified. However, people who leave the church in Germany (“nones”) often do not miss anything religiously and therefore do not usually convert to another religious community. Rather, religion usually plays no or a subordinate role in their happiness and meaning in life, or other institutions have taken over its significance: The new sovereign after religion and the state could, for example, be global late capitalism and its little brother consumerism, for which there is much to suggest, especially in the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a former trading power.16

From a German perspective in particular, the question arises as to whether the established causality that church and structural development bring about the relevance of faith can be empirically upheld. There is no doubt that a reorientation of church structures and positions is needed, for example on issues of gender justice, sexual violence and moral preaching. However, to see this as a singular solution to problems in the face of secular challenges does not do justice to the crisis phenomena and the people behind them, nor to the sociological empiricism of religion. Accordingly, pastoral care cannot be planned with any promise of success, and faith is ultimately not feasible.

But it is precisely this situation that contains surprises that can be described as paradoxical: where the gospel or heaven are so radically caught up in the crisis of non-necessity (and this is more fundamental than the atheistic approach, because it even extinguishes existence ex negativo and therefore the existential confrontation), it is precisely this difference offered by faith that makes it attractive to some. Interestingly, many of our students have already gone through the multifaceted process that Charles Taylor describes at the end of his monumental work: Conversion. The following observation is interesting, which would certainly need to be empirically validated again: all of them can look back on a specific experience that they have had in or with faith as it understands itself. In one of the most demonstrably liberal and happy countries in the world, where many have everything and could achieve even more, some have experienced a specific lack or received an answer to a question that they did not have before.17 This situation, of course, turns established theological premises on their head: that every person is related to God, asks about him and ultimately remains below their potential if they do not ask the question of God.18 Theological work on the accuracy of an answer, as it developed during the 20th century, often becomes a Sisyphean task – or a self-affirmation discourse within an endless loop that interests only a few on the outside.

How is or can the role of Christianity be described socially within this new formation? Cardinal Eijk from Utrecht predicts a “creative minority “19 with a diaconal basis, among other things, for the Netherlands; others speak of a radical Christianity of choice. What is becoming important – as can be seen from many examples in the Netherlands – is the dimension of a diverse and authentic experience of faith within living congregations and communities, as well as – for example in terms of events and rituals – beyond the established churches. This experiential dimension of faith evidently often precedes its discursive approach, because only those who have experienced faith as existentially meaningful will presumably also ask for reasons for it. This situation is radically different from a popular and culturally inherited religiosity, which almost necessarily called out to be questioned in an emancipatory manner.

For religious communities and their theologies, it is therefore the order of the day and a “sign of the times” to be aware of such shifts and processes. It is clear that secularized countries such as the Netherlands are certainly at the forefront of such developments, but are by no means godless. A multiple disappearance of the question of God and its relevance therefore denotes processes of radical change and a loss of things that have been taken for granted for centuries. At the same time, there is already a visible post-Constantinian and post-axial Christianity, which challenges theological reflection and makes it clear how little the Christian religion is bound to a specific social-historical or ecclesiastical constellation or cultural formation.

    1 See Detlef Pollack and Gergely Rosta: Religion in the Modern Age. An international comparison, Frankfurt am Main 2015.
    2 Cf. Joep de Hart and Pepijn van Houwelingen: Christenen in Nederland. Kerkelijke deelname en christelijke gelovigheid. The Hague 2018.
    3 Cf. Christoph Driessen: History of the Netherlands. From maritime power to trendy country. Regensburg 2009.
    4 ‘https://dbk.de/de/themen/kirche-und-geld/projektion-2060’.
    5 Cf. Richard Auwerda: De kromstaf als wapen. Bisschopsbenoemingen in Nederland. Baarn 1988.
    6 Cf. Stefan Gärtner: The disappointed old and the young guard, in: HK 73 (2019), 39-42.
    7 Cf. Marten van den Bos: Verlangen naar vernieuwing. Nederlands katholicisme 1953-2003. Amsterdam 2012.
    8 Staf Hellemans: De grote transformatie van religie en van de katholieke kerk. Tilburg 2019, 28 f. [Translation: J.L.]
    9 Ibid. 29.
    10 Cf. ibid. 50.
    11 ‘http://www.pewforum.org/2018/06/13/the-age-gap-in-religion-around-the-world’.
    12 Hellemans (note 8), 51.
    13 Cf. Karl Jaspers: Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte. Munich 1983 (11949) and: Shmuel N. Eisenstadt: The axial age: the emergence of transcendental visions and the rise of clerics, in: Archives européennes de sociologie, Vol. 23 (2), 293-314. Cf. more recently: Jan Assmann: Achsenzeit. An archaeology of modernity. Munich 2018.
    14 Cf. Hellemans (note 8), 25.
    15 On this, see soon Jan Loffeld: Der nicht notwendige Gott. The Redemptive Dimension as Crisis and Kairos of Christianity in the Midst of its Secular Loss of Relevance. Würzburg 2020.
    16 Cf. Rainer Bucher: Christianity in capitalism. Against the profit-oriented administration of the world. Würzburg 2019.
    17 On this new paradigm, see the pastoral letter of the Bishop of Limburg, Georg Bätzing, following his visitation in Frankfurt in January 2019: ‘https://bistumlimburg.de/fileadmin/redaktion/Bereiche/frankfurt.bistum-limburg.de/downloads/Ffm_Batzing_Pastoralschreiben_Visitation.pdf’.
    18 Cf. also Gaudium et spes 22.
    19 Cf. in an interesting parallel from an East German perspective: Gerhard Feige: Anders katholisch. The courage to take the small path. Freiburg 2019.

    Jan Loffeld (*1975) studied theology in Münster and Rome and was ordained a priest in 2003. After years as a chaplain and a doctorate in pastoral theology, he was a student pastor and assistant to the Chair of Dogmatics in Münster. In 2017, he was appointed Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Mainz and habilitated at the University of Erfurt in 2018. Since March 2019, he has been Professor of Practical Theology and Head of the “Department of Practical Theology at Religious Studies” at the Tilburg University School of Catholic Theology in Utrecht.  

Leszek Kołakowski: On the significance of a philosophical admonisher

The Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski died 10 years ago. Both his many years of critical engagement with Christianity and his advocacy of a European culture based on Christian values deserve to be remembered. Theo Mechtenberg is a theologian and Germanist, German-Polish translator and publicist.
By Theo Mechtenberg
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/12-2019/leszek-kolakowski-zur-bedeutung-eines-philosophischen-mahners/.]

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009) went from being a convinced Marxist to an astute critic of the communist system and moved closer and closer to Christianity, which he considered indispensable for the survival of European culture. This change was due to the ethical constant in his thinking. This brought him into conflict with the communist rulers, so that he left his Polish homeland after the anti-Semitic reactions to the student protests in March 1968. In exile in the West, he became an influential philosopher. In October 1977, at the time of the RAF terror, Kołakowski was honored with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. In his acceptance speech, he resolutely opposed destructive hatred and invoked religious tradition as a source of strength to overcome it and as an empowerment to love one’s enemies. Even if it is only a minority that lives such a consistent attitude, “the building of our civilization rests on the shoulders of these few.”
Kołakowski’s relationship with Christianity

In 1953, Kołakowski wrote in his “Sketch of Catholic Philosophy”: “Thomism, its philosophy and its socio-political doctrine are today nothing other than a tool of the struggle against the workers’ movement and the countries of socialism. But the Vatican’s agitation is going nowhere. It is not difficult to recognize, beyond the fog of sweet phrases, the hypocritical face of the eulogists of imperialist politics, the apologists of oppression, ignorance and the powerlessness of the people.” His rejection of Catholicism could not be expressed more clearly, although it should be noted that Catholic Poland had to endure an extremely tough church struggle at the time. Incidentally, the quote shows that Kołakowski had no particular idea about Catholicism, because what he says about it are the almost standardized platitudes that were common in all communist countries at the time.

Six years later, there is no sign of this aggressive polemic in Kołakowski’s work. In the essay “The Priest and the Fool”, published in 1959 and subtitled “The Theological Heritage in Contemporary Philosophy”, one searches in vain. In this text, Kołakowski argues that all significant problems of contemporary philosophy have their origins in theology. He also proves to be a fighter on two fronts – against certain manifestations of Christianity and against practiced Marxism. “There are more priests than fools at the king’s court, just as there are more policemen than artists in his kingdom. Apparently it can’t be any other way.” The priests “with the collar of catechism” support the respective system with their immovable beliefs and behavioral norms, not only the ecclesiastical one, but also – in the role of the functionary – the Marxist one. In contrast, the fool, equipped with the “needle of scorn”, appears as their counterpart. It is the role in which Kołakowski sees himself. He is responsible for constantly pondering “whether the opposing ideas are right”. However, it is not the “addiction to contradiction” that drives the fool, the philosopher, but the “mistrust of the stabilized world.”

Kołakowski sees in Christ a comrade-in-arms of the same spirit and the same nature. Is not – he asks – “the fool’s inevitable risk of ridicule and mistrust of every kind of stabilized world a characteristic of the figure of Christ?” The consequence of this basic attitude is the rejection of every form of Marxist and ecclesiastical fundamentalism and totalitarianism. Kołakowski’s turning away from Marxism begins with “The Priest and the Fool”. And to the extent that he turned away from it, he turned to Christianity; more precisely: to the person and teachings of Jesus. He sought a direct approach to the biblical texts, without consulting theological commentaries or dealing with questions of textual criticism. Nevertheless, he proved to be an outstanding expert on the Gospels, from which he quoted extensively. At the same time, he remained critical of certain manifestations of Christianity, especially the “Polish” church, throughout his life, referring back to the message of Jesus. When, after the end of communist rule in his home country, the church succumbed to the temptation of triumphalism in the early 1990s and asserted its claims in a highly undemocratic manner during the establishment of democracy, he was one of those who spoke out publicly and warned against the establishment of a theocracy.

Unmasking Marxism

Kołakowski, already in exile, carried out a general reckoning with Marxism with his three volumes “The Main Currents of Marxism”, published in 1977. This major work is more than a historical exposition. In it, Kołakowski exposes both the moral and intellectual failure of Marxism. From a moral point of view, it has become an ideological justification for the countless crimes committed in its name and has proven to be an inhumane system per excellence. This is linked to its intellectual failure because Marxism has lost its philosophical independence and merely serves to justify the policies of the Kremlin rulers. “The mechanism of this metamorphosis was, moreover, completely transparent; if the Soviet Union is by definition the center of human progress, then everything that serves its interests is progressive, and everything that contradicts its interests is reactionary.”

And further: “Today, Marxism is an ideology that neither explains nor changes the world; it is nothing but a stock of slogans that serve to organize different interests, interests that generally have nothing to do with those with which Marxism identified in its original form.” Kołakowski shows that people in this system have to live in a permanent lie, with the consequence that “through the constant repetition of official lies – in the knowledge that they were lies – all citizens became accomplices of the party and the state in the lie.” The totalitarianism of the system thus also entailed the total involvement of its functionaries. After all, they were “involved in the massive acts of violence that had previously been committed in society; when they themselves became victims of lawlessness, they had nothing to fall back on […]” Kołakowski’s conclusion: there is nothing to improve about this Marxism; it must be eliminated from the world.

The importance of an apocalyptic view

In 1965, Kołakowski published the article “Christ – Prophet and Reformer” in “Argumenty”, the magazine for atheists and freethinkers. He calls Jesus an “amazing figure who awakens in us a sense of the darkness in which we live, and at the same time a sense of the path that leads out of the darkness.” The “feeling of darkness” results from Jesus’ apocalyptic message, and he is a reformer in his confrontation with the Jewish law, which he subordinated to the primacy of universal love. For Kołakowski, Jesus thus became a “model of radical authenticity, in which only every human individual can really give life to his own values.”

In his essay “Our Happy Apocalypse”, also published in “Argumenty” in 1965, Kołakowski deals with Jesus’ end-time message in an unusual, almost fascinating way, according to which everyone should prepare for the end of the world. Kołakowski understands it in terms of a newly gained perspective. “From this moment on, all things of the world will pass away in the shadow of the apocalypse.” With apocalyptic consciousness, the awareness of human neediness changes at the same time. Against this background, Jesus appears as the Savior who both confirms and overcomes the neediness and fear of our humanity. The same applies to the apocalyptic end of the world, which, with Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God, means both judgment and completion. Kołakowski is convinced that without this apocalyptic awareness, a situation of self-destruction would be conjured up, a situation of “self-destruction of the world and of mankind.” Without the apocalyptic message of Jesus, our European culture is doomed to destruction.

Kołakowski fleshes out his apocalyptic worldview by emphasizing the primacy of love over mere legality. A human community based solely on legality is inhumane. It requires mutual trust and solidarity. Wherever conflicts between law and love arise in human life and in society, they must be resolved in the spirit of love. Who does not think of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open the border to the influx of refugees, a decision that many strongly condemn on the basis of law and order and which has led to considerable protests and domestic political shifts?

The priority of love implies non-violence. At first glance, it seems utopian and naive, because who is going to turn the other cheek after a slap? Even Christianity has practiced plenty of violence in its history, having gained power and influence through non-violence. Nonviolence should not be confused with passivity, as Jesus exemplified. A militant non-violence can certainly lead to success, for which not only the example of Mahatma Gandhi can be cited as proof. Thus, “it is not those who think it is possible to reduce the use of violence, who fight to reduce it, who are considered naive – those who believe that violence can do everything are naive.”

Another important insight for European culture is that man does not live on bread alone. Hunger as a self-recognition of irrevocable need cannot be satisfied materially alone; it is about the recognition of values that are threatened by practical materialism.

Furthermore, Kołakowski takes up the idea of the chosen people, which Jesus extended to all peoples. He thus established a universalism that is indispensable for the existence of European culture and excludes any kind of nationalism. In view of the current threatening rise of nationalist tendencies in the European Union, this insight is highly topical and challenges the Christian churches in particular to counteract them decisively.

Kołakowski also understands the “organic misery of finiteness” as part of his apocalyptic understanding of the world. Jesus teaches people that they are people in need, but that they often do not reflect on their need. They should be aware of the negative consequences of resignation and simply giving up. The point is to constantly strive to improve living conditions, while being fully aware that absolute improvement is unattainable. Moreover, this is a topic that philosophy is constantly dealing with.

Thanks to Jesus, these insights and values are part of the creative spirit of Europe; and this is permanent and independent of Christian dogma. This spiritual treasure must remain effective as an impulse. “Therefore, any attempt to declare Jesus ‘unimportant’, to remove him from our culture under one pretext or another or to ignore him by pointing out that we do not believe in God, in whom he believed, is ridiculous and useless.” Any attempt of this kind would lead to the decline of our culture. However, this implies a great responsibility on the part of Christianity, which must focus on this heritage, draw from it and communicate it culturally. However, this responsibility is opposed by a certain manifestation of Christianity, with Kołakowski focusing primarily on Polish Catholicism. His criticism is directed at “the dark clerical nightmare, a fanatical, obtuse Catholicism that has been appropriating and sterilizing our culture for four centuries.” This criticism may seem unfair and inappropriate for the 1960s, which were marked by the church struggle, but it is justified in relation to the current situation of the “Polish” church.

Christianity and European culture

Some time ago, an unfinished manuscript entitled “The Mocked Jesus”, written in French, was discovered in Kołakowski’s estate. It dates from the 1980s. Translated into Polish, the text was recently published by the Krakow-based publishing house Znak.

In this contribution, Kołakowski takes up motifs that he had already dealt with in his two writings from 1965. In this text, he particularly emphasizes the importance of Christianity for European culture. The reinforcement of his earlier arguments was probably determined by the experience of 1968, by the protests of Polish students in March of that year, by the violent reaction of the communist system and the anti-Semitism spread by those in power, but also by the Western cultural revolution as well as the Second Vatican Council and the election of the “Polish” pope.

Against the backdrop of these experiences, Kołakowski revisits the apocalyptic proclamation of Jesus and emphasizes its cultural-critical significance. He warns against any kind of ideological and political salvation and against excessive consumerism. The growing spiral of material satisfaction of needs leads to catastrophe. It is the path to the autodestruction of humanity: “Getting used to an apocalyptic view of the world is the prerequisite for humanity to survive and avoid apocalyptic self-destruction.” In view of the impending ecological catastrophe, the harbingers of which we are already feeling, this is an extremely clairvoyant prophetic message for the 1980s.

Despite his rapprochement with Christianity, Kołakowski did not join a church community. He remained true to his role by vehemently advocating that the person of Jesus and his teachings also had meaning for those who did not believe in the dogmatic sense, and not just in a purely personal sense, but as an indispensable element of European culture that could save it from decline.

Kołakowski resembles the alien demon exorcist of the Gospel. While the disciples want to forbid him to act “in the name of Jesus” because he is not one of their own and he is usurping a right that, in their opinion, does not belong to him, Jesus makes them understand that he, too, is in a certain sense one of their own, even if he is not following them (Mark 9: 38-41).


Office and fear
By Stefan Kiechle
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/11-2019/amt-und-angst/.]

There are two forces at work in the church: ministry and charisma. The ministry stands for tradition, order, administration, teaching, law – and hopefully acts out of genuine authority. The ministry is conferred by ordination and confers the grace of ordination. The office has always been male-determined, it is monarchical – one rules – and also hierarchical – a tiered and sacred order is established. Charisma, on the other hand, stands for the spirit that blows where and how it wants, for spiritual movements, for new and different beginnings. The charism works on its own, from below, in diversity, sometimes disorderly or chaotic, sometimes even authoritarian, which in turn makes it necessary to distinguish between the spirits. In any case, without the spirit, nothing new emerges. Charisma is often determined by women, often also by strong charismatic personalities.

There is a certain antagonism between ministry and charisma, which already has biblical roots – in the Petrine and Pauline ministries. When the two work well together, they complement and fertilize each other. However, if they freeze in conflict and block each other, they hinder the life of the church. Working well together means that they do not always understand each other, but they remain in dialogue, free of fear and trust, and they respect each other: the charism respects the mandate for unity, leadership and control in the ministry; the ministry respects spiritual freedom in the charism, the radical – that which goes to the root – and the energetic, also the anarchic – relativizing monarchies and hierarchies – and the creative. Incidentally, great bishops and popes were men with office and charisma, the two not fused, but actively lived for the blessing of the Church. Pope Francis is probably such a man – only history will be able to judge this definitively: this leads to some painful antagonisms within himself, including conflicts with the officials of his Curia – but it is salutary for a renewing Church. Everyone will never understand this; for example, the FAZ, as always committed to the truth, recently described him as “simply insane” (14.9.2019, p. 8).

In modern times, the office became stronger than the charisma. Law, doctrine and the rejection of the new became more important – the modernism crisis was a high point. In the Second Vatican Council, the charism became more prevalent, an unexpected and inspiring awakening. For several decades, however, the office has once again taken the sceptre, with centralism and control, with an emphasis on official grace and official authority. The ministry – above all the Petrine ministry in Rome – wants to save the unity of the church from falling apart into diverse cultures and also its “doctrine” from the spirit of the times.

The dramatic church crisis in our countries shows this: The constitution of the Church is no longer fit for purpose; it has failed against abuse, among other things. The ministry has lost all authority in wide circles – people no longer respect it or run away from it altogether. The polarization between reform-minded and traditional Catholics is so severe that dialogue has been disrupted: Is the church even one anymore? Obviously, the ministry no longer works; the more it is a party to the division itself, the more divisive it becomes. Have the ministers noticed this yet?

The “synodal way” of the German church is trying to tackle the crisis. However, the topics of the four forums (power, sexual morality, priesthood, women) are, to put it simply, rather ministerial topics. Is this the way to make room for charisma? Is there not a lack of emphasis on spiritual renewal, on evangelization, ultimately on the question of God in a time far from God? Are the charismatic forces of the Church – spiritual movements and communities – sufficiently present?

Pope Francis (in his letter of 29.6.2019) encourages us in a very Pauline way to speak freely and to discern spirits. Cardinal Ouellet, on the other hand (in the letter of 4.9.2019), emphasizes the current law, the decision-making power of the bishops, the approval of everything new by “Rome” – here Rome wants to retain control and prevent anything new and creative from the outset; the letter is arrogant, contemptuous, a gesture of power – he does not trust the German Church and its bishops to lead the way in a spiritually guided manner. However, the ministry and the constitution are in crisis, so we have to talk about them: frankly, spiritually, creatively.

Is the office afraid? Of a loss of meaning and control, of disorder, of colorfulness, or simply of no longer understanding everything in some regions of the world? Obviously, Rome does not know much about the dramatic church crisis in Germany (and elsewhere). Or do they not want to know anything about it – for fear of losing their own image of the church? The unity of the Church – the argument of those who emphasize Petrine intervention – has long been massively fragile and is by no means being promoted by “Rome” at present. Why do some of the high lords cling to structures and formal unity? Why do they not trust in the spirit? Are they afraid of it and its power of renewal? Fear has always been a bad advisor, especially in crises.

    Stefan Kiechle SJ, Dr. theol., born 1960, was a university pastor and novice master, city chaplain and provincial (head of Germany) of the Jesuits. He is currently editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine “Stimmen der Zeit” and commissioner for Ignatian spirituality.

Christian social ethics as human rights ethics

Michelle Becka, Professor of Christian Social Ethics in Würzburg, writes that human rights are the expression of human dignity in concrete claims. She describes what this means – in theory, but also in practice – in the context of Christian social ethics and using specific examples such as the debates on migration and sexual abuse in the church.
By Michelle Becka
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/11-2019/christliche-sozialethik-als-menschenrechtsethik/.]

Daily headlines cast doubt on the assertiveness of human rights. Amnesty International denounces an increasing “policy of demonizing human rights”. And human rights are also controversial in the humanities and social sciences – for example with reference to imperialism, instrumentalization or their obvious ineffectiveness. So while the number of conventions and agreements is higher than ever before, a declining relevance – or even rejection – of human rights can be seen at various levels. Are human rights mere rhetoric?

These questions should be taken as an opportunity to take a closer look at human rights from a theological perspective. With this in mind, I would like to understand Christian Social Ethics (CSE) as human rights ethics – and at least open up the discussion here as to what exactly this means. The basic assumption of this article is that human rights should not be withdrawn in the face of current challenges and demands, but rather strengthened.

The dangers of the human rights discourse – especially those of (moral) imperialism – are not ignored. Without being able to explain this here, I understand this ethics as a critical and “context-sensitive” one, in the sense of sensitivity towards – and the avoidance of – instrumentalization of the human rights discourse by other interests. Such an ethic is attentive to the experiences of those affected by human rights violations, which become the site of reflection,1 and open to different interpretations of those rights.
Why Christian social ethics as human rights ethics?

Based on the philosophical justifications of human dignity and human rights as well as the historical human rights movements, which can be understood as struggles for recognition, the human rights discourse provides a normative framework in which Christian social ethics can be located. This brings with it a gain in terms of content, but also in terms of methodology.

Methodologically, CSE has proven itself in recent decades in developing theories of justification for right action by drawing on philosophical discourses. Nevertheless, there is still some talk of applied ethics, as if the theoretical findings only had to be applied to certain fields of practice. Even if there is a broad consensus that this neither works nor is meant to be the case, it often remains unclear how the theory-practice relationship is to be understood and methodically understood. How is the critique of existing conditions justified? In what normative horizon does social transformation take place? How can socio-ethical reflection begin with the experience of violated or withheld rights and what follows from this? Christian social ethics is not limited to the formulation and justification of theories. Ethics is a reflection (theory) of action – the theory-practice relationship is constitutive for the subject! The human rights perspective therefore offers a hermeneutic that enables us to perceive practice and grasp its normativity. In this framework, interactions become possible: reflection is respected as an immanent part of practice itself.2 At the same time, it points beyond practice, because the needs of practice must be interpreted and systematically developed, whereby both that theory and, in the repercussions, practice itself are changed. So while different reference theories are important for social ethics, the human rights discourse makes a special contribution to the understanding and development of the theory-practice relationship.

Social ethics as human rights ethics has interdisciplinary and theological connections. Theology has important motives to contribute to the human rights discourse and at the same time must ask itself self-critically why these have become effective so late. A serious examination of human rights can strengthen the relevance of theology in society and in interdisciplinary discourse and sharpen its profile. Ultimately, human rights themselves are strengthened because it is not only important to justify them in principle, but also to give good reasons for their importance in specific situations.

Human dignity and human rights

Human rights are based on the assumption of human dignity. It can also be said that they are the unfolding or spelling out of human dignity in concrete claims. One strand of the tradition of the concept of human dignity begins in the Holy Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The image of God indicates the special position of human beings, the filiation with God unites all (initially believers, later all people) in this specialness, thus creating an equality that is underlined by Gal 3:28: There is no longer Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. All are equal in their particularity and uniqueness. Even if the important question is to what extent the bond in Christ must be understood as a prerequisite for this equality, the impulse towards equality is nevertheless set. We also know that for centuries this certainty of faith did not result in any moral or even political claims: the recognition of equal dignity did not result in a claim to the protection of this dignity, nor was it associated with a claim to rights. And when this did happen in modern times – in the combination of emancipatory movements and Enlightenment theories – the church was not a pioneer, but a preventer.

And yet today we rightly emphasize the church’s human rights protection mandate on the one hand, and a theological mandate on the other: we combine our theological thinking with reflections on the justification, protection and enforcement of human rights. In this way, we also read socio-ethical traditions on the basis of human dignity and human rights. The principle of personhood illustrates what a contemporary reading of socio-ethical tradition can look like. It is traditionally understood as an expression of the anthropological dual structure of the human being. According to this principle, man is a rational individual who can recognize right and wrong and is therefore a responsible subject. At the same time, also in line with tradition, this human being is regarded as a community being, a relational being that is always already referred to by others and to others. Man does not owe himself to himself, his being is an owed being.

A very similar idea can be found in contemporary concepts of autonomy and dignity, which, primarily due to the influence of feminist theories and intersubjectivity theories, no longer construe autonomy and dependence as opposites, but rather as intertwined: There remains the assumption of the moral subject, which is self-determined and responsible. But this ability is “relativized”: We are always also conditioned by structures and by others. People are relational and therefore also vulnerable beings, without having to give up their claim to autonomy. Why is this important? Those approaches that are often construed as mutually exclusive, such as autonomy-based concepts of dignity on the one hand and care ethics on the other, are not opposites. Rather, an autonomy-based concept of dignity also includes vulnerability. Precisely because people are vulnerable and their autonomy can be disregarded, they require special protection.

A human rights reflection of the principle of personhood takes this into account. In this way, the protection of the person and their particularity as well as the traditional view of social doctrine that the person must be at the center of institutional action are given concrete form. This is because the dignity of this person is spelled out in concrete rights. Human dignity is a “fundamental and arbitrary judgement on the intrinsic value of the human being “3 that emphasizes the special status of the human being. However, this humanity must be realized – in a self-determined life (relational and in the awareness of vulnerability), which takes place in actions (ibid. 64-79). Accordingly, these spaces for action must be protected. A social ethics based on human rights thus substantiates the claim of the principle of personhood by translating it into concrete rights, thereby giving it binding force. Conversely, theology and the context of faith can provide special models and motives for advocating the protection of dignity and rights.

The human rights approach can be justified in different ways. Seyla Benhabib’s approach is characterized by the fact that she combines an action-theoretical approach with the concept of communicative freedom and in this way takes into account the political dimension of human rights. She convincingly justifies human rights as the rights of all and as going beyond a mere moral claim. The starting point is the “recognition that human beings are moral persons who are equally entitled to legal protection on the basis of rights that do not accrue to them as nationals or members of an ethnic group, but as human beings as such. “4 The communicative freedom that characterizes all human beings results in a moral legal claim that this freedom (of action) must be protected and made possible. Benhabib thus assumes that the core moral content of human rights must be translated into a legal form that can differ in its form in the respective contexts. This also constitutes a context-sensitive approach: a universal claim does not exclude particular differences! However, the safeguarding of freedom through the ability to act must always be guaranteed. This includes the classic rights of freedom as well as the so-called social rights. In terms of action theory, this means that action requires freedom and well-being. Human dignity therefore results in a claim to protect or guarantee these actions (freedom rights) and to enable their realization, and consequently to create the necessary conditions accordingly (social rights).

Christian social ethics as human rights ethics shares this claim, which is both the starting point for criticism and a normative standard for shaping society. Due to the critical and universalistic claim of human dignity and human rights, it is always about the dignity and rights of all people. Anyone who demands the protection of their own dignity and at the same time denies it to others is not arguing in the spirit of either human rights or Christian social ethics.


Example of success: Convention for Persons with Disabilities

The Convention for Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2006 and came into force in 2008. It has been ratified by a particularly large number of countries. It is mentioned here because this text is an example of the interaction between theory and practice, which is so important for social ethics. Numerous associations have collaborated on this text, the experience of people who do not have access to their rights is incorporated and is strongly expressed in the concretization of human rights for this group of people. Finally, the text itself offers a starting point for ethical reflection, so that new insights are produced and practices evoked in the interaction between theory and practice.

The so-called CRPD is not about special human rights – as if these had not previously been granted to people with disabilities – but about the implementation and concretization of general human rights for a group with special impairments. It is a remarkable convention in many respects, and many speak of a paradigm shift in disability policy, namely from the medical to the human rights model of disability at international level. “The human rights model of disability is based on the realization that the worldwide desolate situation of disabled people can be explained less by individual impairments than by socially constructed disenfranchisement of (health) impaired people. “5

However, the paradigm shift is not only a political one, but also a theoretical one. The CRPD speaks – for the first time – of “autonomy” with regard to people with disabilities. It expresses the concept of autonomy mentioned above in a remarkable way, because it assumes that it is not “the disabled” who are dependent and not autonomous, while “the non-disabled” (or “healthy” or even “normal”) are completely autonomous. The relativization of the concept of autonomy, in the sense of assuming the possibility of autonomous action for everyone to varying degrees, makes it possible to claim autonomy for people with disabilities. Respecting, strengthening and protecting their rights also means respecting their scope for action, expanding it and, where necessary, supporting their actions. The CRPD is regarded as an “empowerment convention” that abandons the welfare principle. At the same time, the recognition of disability as an integral part of human life contributes to the humanization of society. It is noteworthy that the CRPD has an equal impact on the practice that has to implement it, as well as on the theory that refers to this convention and further develops the basic ideas.

Challenge: Migration

Human rights issues arise in many complex ways in the context of migration – at national and international level. There are many unresolved issues, for example in the area of tension between human rights and national sovereignty. On the one hand, this manifests itself in the question of who is responsible for respecting, protecting and guaranteeing the rights of migrants. There is a responsibility that no one feels responsible for, so that Hannah Arendt’s central demand for the right to have rights is still unfulfilled. On the other hand, this can be seen in the massive resistance to various forms of immigration – in many countries with the recurring fear of a threat to one’s own by the foreign or an assumed threat to order. It is the task of social ethics and other disciplines to counter this with human rights arguments and thereby convince people. And finally, there are the numerous human rights violations in the context of migration: from illegal practices such as human trafficking, forced prostitution etc. to questions about the protection of unaccompanied minors, the denial of healthcare, exploitation in employment relationships and many more.

In the following, I will focus on an example in which human rights issues have recently received new attention in the public discourse on migration: the discussion on sea rescue. At the latest when the Seawatch 3 entered the port of Lampedusa in Italy under the command of Captain Carola Rackete on June 29, 2019, the issue became the focus of public attention. Rackete became a symbolic figure for resistance motivated by human rights, stylized as a “late-modern Antigone “6 by some and described as presumptuous because she defied the law by others. And yes, it is true that individuals should not simply disregard the law. And yet forms of resistance and disobedience may be necessary in order to question the correctness of the law and its conformity with human rights, to which it is committed: On the one hand, there is the European migration policy, which is still attached to the Dublin system, which has long since proven to be unworkable and lacking in solidarity. With Habermas, the social validity of the law and, in view of questionable arguments, its validity can at least be critically questioned in the face of non-enforcement.

On the other hand, Italy attempted to make sea rescue impossible. The situation has been defused by the new government. However, there is still a risk of destroying the right to asylum by preventing people from landing in Europe.

The fact that Europe is not in a position to develop a political concept for migration and integration is no justification for letting people drown.7 It is a moral and legal imperative – the form it takes is secondary. The fact that numerous voices from civil society as well as politicians from various countries have spoken out in favor of sea rescue this summer gives hope for movement: Awards for Pia Klempp and Carola Rackete are significant symbolic acts, but at the same time threaten to become cynical. After all, political responsibility goes further: not only must sea rescue be decriminalized, but European migration policy must be developed further. After all, people’s rights are threatened or suspended at many points in the migration process (not only in the Mediterranean).

Serious case: abuse crisis

In conclusion, the scandal of sexualized violence by priests and religious and the reaction to the MHG study illustrate how irrelevant and ineffective theological ethics can become if they do not correspond to the basic insight underlying human rights ethics, namely respect for dignity. There is no question that the abuse crisis is complex. At this point, however, we are not concerned with attempts to explain it, but with a basic theological-ethical assumption which, depending on how it is made, already obstructs access to the problem. This alone will be considered below.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s sexual morality has developed significantly, and a personal understanding of sexuality has become established to some extent – this is far more the case in German-speaking moral theology, which is beyond question here. And yet a fundamentally negative image of sexuality remains present and powerful in church teaching: the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the following in a row – without differentiation: “Adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, homosexual acts (no. 492) “8. The row is headed Main sins against chastity. Even intuitively, this ranking seems wrong. The acts that are placed on the same level are all too different. An abstract nature of sexuality, however it may be understood, does not help to clarify the matter.9 However, if all the practices listed are considered morally wrong as a violation of the chastity requirement, it becomes difficult to differentiate between them. Responsibly practiced sexuality cannot be distinguished from sexual violence. This church teaching makes it difficult to clearly condemn sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence.

The necessary criterion that is obviously missing here is respect for human dignity. This is the basic principle that is being violated: Sexual violence disregards the dignity of the person because the “victim” is not respected as a person, but downgraded and instrumentalized. In a relationship characterized by strong asymmetry and an imbalance of power, the other person is not respected on an equal footing, not as a person with equal rights. This is a violation of the right to (sexual) self-determination – a right that is to be understood as a negative and positive right. If, as Martin Lintner rightly emphasizes (ibid. 204), sexuality that is not designed for procreation is fundamentally suspected in church doctrine of making the partner an object of one’s own lust, the actual instrumentalization and degradation that arise through abuse of power and disregard for the other person are lost sight of, as are the structures and theological transfigurations that promote them.

Anchoring the principle of dignity would also contribute to a differentiated approach to the categories of perpetrator and victim. It prevents victimization insofar as so-called “victims” as survivors do not lose their dignity and self-determination, but rather retain and shape it with all their injuries. Conversely, this anchoring in dignity – and in the traditional principle of personality! – that perpetrators are not hastily excused or that they or third parties demand forgiveness from the victims.10 All forgiveness and redemption narratives are preceded by the acceptance of responsibility for one’s own actions. Otherwise, theology undermines its own basic anthropological and ethical assumptions.

 As long as respect for dignity does not become the linchpin of sexual morality, church teaching cannot adequately address sexual abuse, let alone deal with it. There is obviously still a problem with the acceptance of self-determination. A human rights ethic consistently demands this acceptance.

The concretizations show how Christian social ethics gains in profile and sharpness through its anchoring in human rights. Such an anchoring could also help to ensure that the human rights discourse is not exhausted by rhetoric, but is instead re-examined in terms of its effectiveness.

    1 Cf. Michelle Becka and Johannes Ulrich: Blind practice, deaf theory? Social-ethical reflection on the human right to health, in: Bernhard Emunds (ed.): Christian Social Ethics – Orientation of Which Practice? In honor of Friedhelm Hengsbach SJ. Stuttgart 2018, 301-321. I would like to thank my colleague Johannes Ulrich for his important suggestions for this article.
    2 Friedhelm Hengsbach, Bernhard Emunds and Matthias Möhring-Hesse: Ethical reflection on political faith practice. A contribution to the discussion, in: This (ed.): Jenseits Katholischer Soziallehre. New drafts of Christian social ethics. Düsseldorf 1993, 215-291.
    3 Marcus Düwell: Human dignity as the basis of human rights, in: zfmr 1/2010, 64-79, 73.
    4 Seyla Benhabib: Cosmopolitanism without illusions. Human rights in troubled times. Berlin 2016, 33.
    5 Theresia Degener: The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a driver of inclusion, in: RdJB 2/2009, 200-219, 200.
    6 Donatella Di Cesare: Carola Rackete. An Antigone of our time, in: ZEIT 28/2019 (04.07.) and at: ‘https://www.zeit.de/2019/28/carola-rackete-sea-watch-kapitaenin-menschenrechte-heldin’.
    7 The reference to the pull effect is also firstly subordinate and secondly untenable: after the so-called pull factors had largely lost importance in the migration discourse before 2015, the old arguments regarding sea rescue are experiencing a renaissance in the sense of “the more we save, the more will come”. A classic pull effect is suggested. However, studies on the subject show that the pull effect cannot be empirically proven. Cf. Elias Steinhilper and Rob Gruijters: Border Deaths in the Mediterranean: What We Can Learn from the Latest Data (08.03.2017), at: ‘https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/03/institutional’.
    8 The following is added: “When committed against minors, such acts are even more serious because they violate their physical and moral integrity.” Stephan Goertz sees this as a reaction to abuse in the church. Stephan Goertz: Sexual abuse and church sexual morality. Alleged connections, in: Magnus Striet and Rita Werden (eds.): Unheilige Theologie. Analyses in the face of sexual violence against minors by priests. Freiburg 2019, 106-139, 119. The Catechism itself differentiates somewhat more, but remains rooted in the classical model of argumentation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2351-2359).
    9 Martin Lintner: Do we need a new sexual morality?, in: Lebendige Seelsorge 3/2019, 202-205, 204.
    10 Cf. Doris Reisinger: On the burden of being a victim, in: Lebendige Seelsorge 3/2019, 162-166, 163 f.

    Michelle Becka is Professor of Christian Social Ethics in Würzburg.

Celibacy and priesthood

Klaus Mertes SJ, member of the editorial board of this magazine and director of the Jesuit College of St. Blasien, develops a differentiated picture of celibacy. Does celibacy merely mean renunciation? What is its theological meaning? How do priestly and non-priestly celibacy belong together, and how do they differ?
By Klaus Mertes
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/11-2019/zoelibat-und-priestertum/.]

Christoph Eschenbach, pianist and conductor, was recently asked in an interview: “The cellist Desmond Hoebig once said that music is everything to you, more than one hundred percent. But that was only possible because you didn’t have a family on top of everything else.” Eschenbach: “The word additional is correct. I love children, and I would also love to have a family, but it would limit me, both in my expression and in my concentration. It is a life through music and with music that I have dedicated myself to. “1

Is that celibacy? No, if celibacy is understood to mean specifically religiously based renunciation of marriage and family (I am not yet distinguishing between the celibacy of diocesan priests and the vows of religious). Nevertheless, the answer gives some indications that are also helpful for understanding celibacy. Firstly, we are talking about “familylessness”, not just “celibacy” or “sexual abstinence”. As a rule, celibacy is initially associated with sexual abstinence. This is also what celibacy is about, especially as sexuality and fertility are connected. But the fixation on sexual abstinence obscures the broader, more comprehensive renunciation of family. Secondly, family renunciation is the reverse of positively motivated devotion to something fulfilling. The same applies to celibacy: the vision of the kingdom of heaven and the commitment to it are something as moving and fulfilling as music – renouncing family is about living for the kingdom of heaven. This does not devalue family, marriage or sexuality, especially since one takes the responsibility for family seriously if one does not understand and live it merely as something “additional”. Thirdly, there are excellent pianists and conductors who are married and have children. No general demands on pianists and conductors can be derived from the personal decision to be family-free. The same applies to a celibate life. This will have to be considered in more detail with regard to mandatory priestly celibacy. In any case, married men and women are in no way denied the right to place themselves entirely at the service of the kingdom of heaven.2

The theological sign

Much can be sublimated, but not everything. The kingdom of heaven or the “kingdom of God “3 is not a substitute for a good that has been renounced. The void that arises from renunciation, despite all fulfillment, still makes itself heard again and again. It hurts. It would be too easy to see the pain as merely the price of fulfillment. Rather, the painful void has a theological meaning. God is not only present, he is also absent. He is also not something in the world that can and should fill the void. Rather, the glory of God is revealed in the simultaneity of presence and withdrawal (cf. Ex 33:23; Lk 24:31). In his presence, God gives the joy of fulfillment and at the same time the pain of withdrawal. Celibate life must fail if it is expected that the pain will eventually disappear and only fulfillment will remain.

Everyone who seeks God knows this “theological pain”. God is also transcendent for married couples and communicates himself to them in the simultaneity of presence and withdrawal. The theological void is not filled by the spouse or the children. The only difference to celibate life is that the theological void is more visible through celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. In this respect, renunciation itself is also a sign – not only for the appreciation of the kingdom of heaven, but also for its reference to transcendence. Renunciation marks “alterity” (Eckhard Nordhofen), because “between the Creator and the creature … there is no similarity so great that there is no even greater dissimilarity between them. “4 Renunciation is more than just a price to be paid in order to be able to concentrate fully on the kingdom of heaven. It is itself a theological sign, an existential representation of the paradoxical nature of God’s presence in the world.

Singleness and marriage/family complement each other – especially as marriage is also a sacramental sign of God’s presence in the world. Both refer to the “Father in heaven”, his presence and his distance. The orientation towards God does not escape the paradoxical presence between fulfillment and withdrawal – otherwise it would be oriented towards something other than God.

Celibacy in the Gospel

There is only one passage in the Old Testament that I know of in which God explicitly demands that a man renounce his family: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘You shall not take a wife, nor have sons or daughters in this place’” (Jer 16:2). The prophet lives in the midst of a time of destruction. Jerusalem and the remaining southern part of Israel are about to be finally conquered and destroyed by the troops of the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar. In this situation, starting a family is pointless: “For thus says the Lord about the sons and daughters who are born in this place, about the mothers who bear them and about their fathers who father them in this land: They will die a painful death; they will not be mourned or buried; they will become manure in the field. They will perish by sword and famine; their corpses will be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field” (Jer 16:3 ff.). To make matters worse, the prophet is threatened with hostility from his own people, including his own clan, for his provocative message. In his Jeremiah novel “Hear the Voice”, Franz Werfel described the prophet’s renunciation of his family in a valid literary way.

Where there is no future, it is not worth starting a family. So the reverse conclusion is that family stands for the future. God actually gives a better future. In the biblical tradition, the blessing of children is also seen as a blessing from heaven.5 It is therefore all the more remarkable that Jesus praises the renunciation of fertility: “Some have made themselves unfit for marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12). The Jeremianic motif of the time of doom may resonate with Jesus.6 But the word “kingdom of heaven” actually expresses a positive promise. However, its fulfillment does not depend on fruitfulness for the (extended) family. Rather, Jesus founds another family: “Those who do the will of God are brother, sister and mother to me” (Mk 3:35). This new extended family is made up of countless people, especially the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:6); this expression refers to the “poor and sinners”, who are also marginalized on a massive scale because they fall out of the context of clan membership and clan care. Their time of need is over with the arrival of the kingdom of heaven.7 The family from Nazareth experiences this as a provocation and splits over it.

The celibacy of the Gospel is therefore initially a critical sign. In a clan society, no authority is allowed to make higher demands on its members than the clan, the family. This leads to a conflict in the Gospel, because it preaches and practices a greater love for one’s neighbour that goes beyond the boundaries of love for one’s own people. Family-lessness thus becomes a bone of contention, but on the other hand it also frees us to deal with this very conflict.

Becoming free for the conflict – that is the combative aspect of celibacy. The clan’s claims to identity politics are rejected. At the same time, the kingdom of heaven is open to marriages in which clan boundaries and other boundaries are overcome. In the kingdom of heaven, or also “in Christ” (Gal 3:28), there is therefore no hierarchy between the celibate and the married – especially as a marriage across clan boundaries can also trigger the same conflicts as a marriage without a family.

The outwardly visible sign of a family-less life corresponds to an inner attitude, a mystical (inner) side. This is not meant to be exclusive, because every relationship with God has such an inner side. The kingdom of God is a matter of the heart for everyone. With the pain of renouncing family, however, the theological void is opened up explicitly, existentially. The void not only directs the inner being towards emptiness, but also towards fullness, towards warmth in the encounter with God in prayer and silence, in thanksgiving and love. This intimacy is the counterpart to cordiality in the encounter with our fellow human beings, as Jesus lives it. It is an essential part of the critical and militant sense of celibacy; without it, criticism becomes ideology and struggle becomes arrogance. It is only in the interior of the heart that the incomprehensible becomes tangible, which motivates the decision for the celibacy of the Gospel. “He who can grasp it, let him grasp it” (Mt 19:12).

Priestly celibacy today

Compulsory priestly celibacy is a sign that has not only been contested since today. Its introduction in 1139 in the Latin Church8 did not fall from the sky, but had a conflict-ridden history that began soon after the apostolic era. The fiercest opposition at the time of its introduction came from the dynasties, which were accustomed to passing on ecclesiastical offices and benefices through the succession of legitimate children. Priestly celibacy, on the other hand, stood for the independence of church leadership offices from the power of clans and dynasties. The slogan was: “Freedom of the church.”

At the same time, priestly celibacy was based on an understanding of cultic purity, about which the Second Vatican Council was silent centuries later for good reasons, when it simultaneously attempted to re-establish priestly celibacy in its pastoral sense: on the one hand, celibacy and continence were “not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood”, as practice in the Eastern Churches in particular showed; on the other hand, the Church had “always held perfect and constant continence in high esteem for the sake of the kingdom of heaven … especially with regard to the priestly life”, since it was “a sign and at the same time an impulse of pastoral love. “9

Much has since changed in the secularization thrusts of modernity: The social power of clans and extended families has been broken in the European-influenced West by the separation of sexual activity and fertility on the one hand and by comprehensive individualization processes on the other; clans and extended families no longer exist as holders of decisive social power, or at most as a result of migration from other cultures. The model of modernity is the nuclear family of two generations, parents and children.

And: for the modern age, the distinction between sacred and profane spheres is more difficult to comprehend. What a priest is, is usually only stated in the mode of criticism. The situation is different for the Church: As a world church, it not only lives in modern, secular cultures; it is not a foregone conclusion either for it or for non-modern cultures whether it wants to participate in the modernization processes of the West or develop differently. As the priestly people of God, as it understands itself, it cannot dispense with the distinction between the profane and sacred spheres without abolishing itself.

So how can priesthood and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven be communicated in a secular society in such a way that it is possible to understand what is meant? The crux of the matter is that the obligatory nature of the connection between priesthood and celibacy today tends to promote misunderstandings and thus makes it more difficult to clarify these questions. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, it has even been recognized by the magisterium that there is no necessary connection between priesthood and celibacy, neither for historical nor dogmatic reasons. However, the more the secular public sees and discusses celibacy in terms of the priesthood, because priestly celibacy continues to exist, the less its critical, militant and mystical meaning becomes apparent.

The idea that sexual activity contaminates the cult can also be considered to have been overcome. Perhaps it still resonates in Catholic (and other) mentalities today, but it no longer appears either in theology or in doctrinal statements after the Second Vatican Council. Nevertheless, priestly celibacy still stands. Priesthood is therefore still associated with sexual abstinence. The issue of celibacy is thus superimposed on the perception of priestly activities: Pastoral care, sacramental acts, service of remembrance, envisioning and substitution. Why do all priests have to be sexually abstinent for all these meaningful things? – This is the understandable question to which there is no longer a truly plausible answer.

The abuse scandal is just the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. The relationship between the clergy and sexuality now also appears in the gloomy light of practical failure – not only because of the sexualized violence of clerical perpetrators, but even more because of a clerical milieu that was and is not in a position to adequately assess the acts and offer protection to those affected. This in turn increases the plausibility of demands to open up priestly celibacy. An almost thousand-year-old tradition is no longer strong enough to withstand such pressure for change, especially as the pressure is combined with good arguments on the matter.

Diocesan clergy and religious

There are many religious who are also priests. And there are even more religious who are not priests – many women religious and also the religious “brothers”. It is significant that they fall outside the public perception of the celibacy debate. Or perhaps not? Religious who are not priests make the world’s view of the kingdom of heaven particularly clear, precisely because they are not also priests (or priestesses) in the context of mandatory priestly celibacy. That is why the debate about celibacy does not affect them. This, in turn, is part of the price that priests, whether diocesan or in a religious order, have to pay for mandatory priestly celibacy: Their witness does not shine as clearly, and not at all because they are less serious about living the celibate life, but because their witness cannot shine undisguised under the conditions of priestly celibacy.

Occasionally, religious men who are priests are referred to as “voluntary” celibates in order to distinguish them from the supposedly “involuntary” celibacy of the diocesan clergy. This seems inappropriate to me. It is true: Strictly speaking, the argument is about the celibacy of diocesan clergy; if priestly celibacy were abolished, the vow of celibacy of religious would remain unaffected. I remember a conversation with a theology student friend of mine in the 1970s who advised me not to join a religious order but a diocesan seminary: “Then you can get married when celibacy is abolished soon.”

But to deny diocesan priests the voluntary nature of their decision is to deny the dignity of their life choice. Incidentally, diocesan and religious priests both share the same challenges posed by the celibate way of life; it would not only be presumptuous, but simply wrong to claim that religious priests would cope better with these difficulties because they have “voluntarily” made their promise of celibacy. And finally: in both cases, the decision to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven was often made on the condition of compulsory priestly celibacy.

Motives are not causes. They can clarify, change and deepen. Of course, a life of priestly celibacy can succeed. There are many good examples of this. One condition, however, is to grasp more deeply the distinction between priestly life and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, in order to understand both as intrinsic values and not as prices to be paid in each case. It is precisely the non-priestly religious who give a helpful testimony to the independent dignity of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, living a celibate life simply in order to become a priest – without any sense of the intrinsic value of a celibate existence – or even becoming a priest in order to be able to live a celibate life, leads to a dead end. The tragedy and pathology of such a functional understanding of priesthood and celibacy becomes visible in the failure of such life decisions, failure not only to the detriment of those who have failed, but also to the detriment of those who are entrusted to the failed priests.

Marking alterity

Finally, back to the question of the relationship between sexual abstinence and cult: there is probably a consensus that the metaphor of purity and impurity is inappropriate. What is less clear, however, is whether modernity really no longer has any sense of the distinction between a sacred and a profane sphere, and therefore no sense of the priesthood either. Max Weber’s thesis of the demystification of the world is not currently proving true. New sacralization and cult phenomena are springing up. They are floating freely through the space and time of the present; it will be interesting to see what new large-scale structures they will continue to merge into.
For centuries, priestly celibacy linked the priest’s profession with the existential decision to remain celibate. The necessary things have been said about the pathological side of this connection.

But the visible renunciation simultaneously emphasized and continues to emphasize the connection with the theological void that has already been mentioned. Thus, a priestly-celibate life fits in perfectly with the assignment to the sphere of the sacred, as long as it is not associated with a pejorative understanding of sexuality. Even if there are other pathologies of the oversacralization of priests, even if they are married, the appropriate reaction to this is not to completely reject the assignment of priesthood and sacred spaces and actions. If it is not to be the existential representation of the theological void by renouncing marriage, then other forms of marking alterity would have to be found. For this much is also clear: it would be wrong to downgrade the priest to a mere cult servant without this service also extending to his existential self-understanding. Sacred and profane spheres are not only to be distinguished, but also communicate with each other. Anyone who receives the sacrament of God’s love and at the same time does not love their neighbor in everyday life is belittling the sacrament. This applies all the more to the minister of the sacrament. A debate on how the marking of alterity could be shaped in a non-celibate priesthood is still pending.

    1 ZEIT magazine 35/2019 (21.8.2019), also at: ‘www.zeit.de/zeit-magazin/2019/35/christoph-eschenbach-dirigent-rettung’.
    2 There is a difficulty here in the term “undivided heart” (CIC 277§1). It assumes competitions that do not exist before the “raison du coeur” (Blaise Pascal)
    3 “Kingdom of heaven” in Mt is the counterpart to “kingdom of God” in Mk and Lk.
    4 IV. Lateran Council (1215), DS 806.
    5 The Bible is full of stories about saving fertility after suffering barrenness. Abraham and Sarah are promised “numerous offspring” – they are the epitome of divine blessing. With Isaac and Rebecca, the promise is temporarily jeopardized; with Jacob, Rachel and Leah, it is fulfilled.
    6 Paul also likes to refer to Jeremiah (cf. Gal 1:15), so that his reference to his own celibacy can be understood in this prophetic tradition: “It is good because of the coming trouble” (1 Cor 7:26).
    7 In the marriage of the kingdom of heaven, the power asymmetry between man and woman is also overcome, which is why the disciples, still caught up in patriarchal thinking, are frightened and think that if a man is not allowed to give a woman a letter of divorce, it is better not to marry at all (cf. Mt 19:10). The economic basis comes from generosity in dealing with one’s own possessions, which therefore no longer primarily benefit one’s own clan – and therefore calls him to the scene: “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21), “a glutton and a drunkard” (Mt 11:19). How dangerous a disobedient son or daughter is in a clan society if they step out of line can be read in Deut 20:19 f.: “Our son here is stubborn and rebellious, he is a spendthrift and a drunkard … Then all the men of the city shall stone him and he shall die.”
    8 Hubert Wolf: Celibacy. 16 theses. Munich 2019, writes that the law was not implemented in (tolerated) practice or only much later, in many places not until the 19th century, and in some parts of the world still not today.
    9 Cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis no. 16.

    Klaus Mertes

    Superior of the Ignatius House in Berlin, editor of the cultural magazine STIMMEN DER ZEIT, studied classical philology and Slavic studies in Bonn and, after joining the Jesuit order, philosophy in Munich and theology in Frankfurt. He has worked as a teacher since 1990, first in Hamburg from 1990-1993 and then at Canisius College in Berlin from 1994-2011, where he was rector from 2000. From 2011 to 2020, he was Director of the International Jesuit College in Sankt Blasien.

Fundamentalists are always the others: Reflections on Catholic, Protestant and Muslim milieu constrictions

Based on Samuel Huntington’s concept of the “clash of civilizations”, which stands for a right-wing conservative justification of culturally induced conflicts, Joachim Valentin presents a different model that focuses primarily on social factors of coexistence in a globalized and multicultural world. Valentin is an associate professor of Christian religious and cultural theory in Frankfurt am Main and director of the “Haus am Dom” in the same city.
By Joachim Valentin
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/11-2019/fundamentalisten-sind-immer-die-anderen-ueberlegungen-zu-katholischen-evangelischen-und-muslimischen-milieuverengungen/.]

Whether we are talking about radicalism and extremism, Salafism or jihadism, or simply reactionary or conservative religion – we are always talking about forms of religion that, for good or bad reasons, are not acceptable to the majority in the current discourse of Western societies or are perceived as a problem. For me, however, this is not really a theological issue in the strict sense – in constitutional societies, the law regulates what is and is not acceptable in religionibus. We have been engaged in this debate since 09/11, whether it’s homeschooling, abortion, headscarves or Scheitl, whether it’s slaughter or circumcision: What is covered by positive religious freedom and what curtails other rights and threatens the freedom of others, whether a mosque may or may not be built, who is recognized as a religious community in our country and who is allowed to give religious instruction as a partner of the state, is decided by state processes and afterwards everyone has to abide by them. For strategic reasons alone, it seems to me that the task of theology and church representatives is first and foremost to defend positive religious freedom against an increasingly aggressive secular society.

However, I will leave all these questions aside here and attempt a defensible version of the originally inner-Protestant battle term “fundamentalism” and its apparent counterpart “enlightenment”. The necessary tools for this were already laid out at the turn of the last millennium. To this day, there are two opposing positions, the first of which is characterized by a polar and the second by an internal and global-plural model of religions and cultural spaces.

The first position, most succinctly and first formulated by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations (New York 1996), thinks of “religions” or “cultures” primarily in terms of a hostile opposition and is the mastermind of the hawks or right-wing conservative thinkers around George W. Bush, who otherwise rely on the two thinkers Leo Strauss and Carl Schmidt, who came from the German nationalist environment of the Weimar Republic. In 1996, Huntington wrote that after the end of the East-West conflict, world politics had become multipolar and multicultural. It was no longer ideologies but cultures that determined the world order. In order to avoid new global conflicts, the West must therefore also observe other cultural values. It is a mistake to equate modernization with Western culture or Westernization. The values of the West are not recognized as universal values in other cultures. The book literally states:

“The West conquered the world not through the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other cultures converted), but rather through its superiority in the use of organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never forget it. “1

With this rejection of dialogue and focus on the armed conflict between cultures, the “clash of civilizations”, and his refusal to take a differentiated view of what he calls “non-Westerners”, Huntington has not only had a massive influence on US foreign policy. The consequences that it had in the Middle East for the situation there, which is now completely out of control, are obvious, but to this day, influential multipliers can also be found in Western Europe across a wide ideological spectrum, Thilo Sarrazin and Alice Schwarzer are two people here, interestingly from the left-wing spectrum, who believe that they can also identify clearly definable cultural areas in European societies and stage their confrontation. Current election results in Germany and Europe should also be understood in this context. The subliminal threat and even combat situation invoked here often makes people forget the validity of human rights and international law for “non-Western” “enemies”.

The return of religions

An early counter-position to this Manichaeism, which is still difficult to overtake today, can be found in Martin Riesebrodt’s 2001 book The Return of Religions,2 which I will use as a basis for an initial look at the scene. The Chicago sociologist introduces the terms “class cultures” and “cultural milieus” in the wake of Ulrich Beck and in differentiation from both neo-conservative (Huntington) and neo-Marxist models of thought that are narrowly focused on class antagonisms and criticism of capitalism. In doing so, he does far more justice to the empirical diversity, complexity and diverse logic of “fundamentalist” group formations: the battle line, the clash, does not lie between different cultures, i.e. between inside and outside, but within all cultures between classes and milieus. In this pluralistic view, Huntington’s irreconcilable cultural Manichaeism can itself be understood as fundamentalism.

Riesebrodt does not deny that non-Western groups that are often vaguely described as “fundamentalist” exhibit a higher degree of social and ideological homogeneity than they should actually have after the dissolution of classes and milieus in late modernity. He writes:

“It is precisely insecure groups that form milieus, […] and there are a large number of these in the Western industrialized countries, whether they are Turks [Moroccans, Syrians, Croats, Eritreans] in Germany, Pakistanis, Indians and Jamaicans in England or North and West Africans in France. They have by no means all disappeared in the melting pot of individualism. “3

Riesebrodt is also describing milieus that still concern us today in our religious-political situation, albeit more as conservative imported religious communities that we also have to deal with within Christianity. We just haven’t noticed it yet: in Germany, for example, the large number of Catholics with a conservative Catholic migration background, such as Croats, Eritreans, Poles and Italians, is one of the most invisible and at the same time greatest challenges for pastoral and religious education work.

Riesebrodt generally identifies a “fundamentalism of the marginalized middle” (78) and describes ideological characteristics: “the ‘good old days’ of one’s own childhood or an idealized past [such as the Islamic Salafia or the early Christian community or the Catholic 19th century]” (79) represents an ideal that replaces missed or distant aspirations. Belonging to an ideological elite and its triumph over real elites in the near future compensates for denied social acceptance or for various reasons impossible formation of a strong ego or group identity.

This first, for our purposes necessarily brief, sociologically influenced sketch of what can rightly be called “fundamentalism” and can be found in both Western and non-Western cultures should not obscure the fact that Riesebrodt makes a further sociological distinction and differentiates between poor, middle class and intellectual fundamentalism, for example, but also speaks of at least three aggregate states of fundamentalism in terms of worldview. Namely charismatic fundamentalism, which, as in the Pentecostal churches or mystical Islam, lives from the direct reception of higher truths in ecstatic rituals and is considered to be particularly women-friendly, political fundamentalism, i.e. aimed at social implementation, and legalistic-literalist fundamentalism, which tends to operate at the level of patriarchal dogma or theory (Riesebrodt 97 ff.).

Incidentally, all Protestant and Muslim fundamentalisms are almost purely lay movements. This insight not only helps with what I consider to be the fundamental distinction between Protestant and Islamic fundamentalism on the one hand and Catholic traditionalism on the other. It also shows how old our seemingly current problems (including those within the Catholic Church) are. Almost a hundred years ago, the sociologist of religion Max Weber was able to sum them up in a way that is still illuminating for us today: “But the three forces at work among the laity with which the priesthood has to contend are 1. prophecy, 2. lay traditionalism, 3. lay intellectualism. “4 Riesebrodt writes about the clear strategic advantages of evangelical fundamentalism in Latin America (and Africa) over the Catholic Church today:

“Particularly in this competitive situation, the participation opportunities for women in charismatic Protestantism prove to be a great strategic advantage, especially compared to more intellectualized Catholic grassroots communities. The direct, unmediated experience of grace that cannot be acquired, regardless of status, income, education or gender, explains the attractiveness of charismatic religion, especially for groups of people who are otherwise excluded from obtaining religious qualifications. “5

Riesebrodt’s definition of the opponents who choose fundamentalist groups is still valid today: 1. the new political class, product of university education 2. members of the new upper and upper-middle classes 3. intellectuals 4. minorities such as Catholics or Christians in general, Jews, Sikhs, Ahhmadija, Hindus, where they appear to be in the minority, i.e. disruptive and vulnerable. Riesebrodt summarizes the definition of such opponents in general terms as political agents of change, practitioners of secularization policies and winners of these restructuring processes. It is worth noting here that, in addition to the well-known religious fundamentalism, a political fundamentalism has emerged in Europe in recent years, which also dresses itself up in religious terms as the “defender of the Christian West”, but otherwise shares all the characteristics of its declared opponents.6

Fundamentalism’s response to various – primarily economic and social – experiences of marginalization therefore lies in a “radical rejection of modernist value relativism, individualistic self-realization and utopias of progress, as well as modern tendencies towards bureaucratization and objectification. “7

At this point, we can only touch on the fact that these basic right-wing populist patterns can easily be applied to pietist or other evangelical groups as well as – as Ahmad Mansour has shown in his book Generation Allah8 – to young people at risk of Salafism, who are not always autochthonous Muslims. Here, however, there is often a real experience of exclusion due to the particularly widespread anti-Muslim racism in our society and the crisis of a central male leader figure in these cultures due to the absence or economic weakness of their own father, but also due to the equal rights of women, which are experienced as dishonorable.

In addition to the roughly outlined sociological understanding of the widespread phenomenon of “fundamentalism”, which is by no means limited to Islam – as is well known, the term is derived from an American evangelical magazine – we must now point out the internal complexity of all high or world religions and warn against universalizing and normatively exaggerating the religion of one’s own milieu, which in our case is likely to be the milieu of academically educated and generally wealthy sections of the population. Particularly after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Western European Catholicism has at times lost its sense of those numerically significant strata whose religious practice is characterized by the rosary, May devotions, pilgrimages and the veneration of saints. The narrowing of the Catholic community milieu9 , rightly lamented by Michael N. Ebertz, is in part also the result of a widespread eradication of pious practices perceived as pre-modern and the loss of those clientele whose affiliation was primarily defined precisely by this.

Virtuoso, intellectual and mass religiosity

It would also be interesting to understand the obvious conflict between European and Islamic cultures not as a cultural conflict, but as a conflict between mass and intellectual religiosity. For just as European Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, has lost its mass religious milieus, Islam has lost its intellectual-religious milieus in the course of almost a thousand years of events.

It is essential for an appropriate presentation of the situation in our subject area, or even for formulating an alternative course of action, to use a sociologically adequate concept of what is meant by “religion”. I propose to understand religion as a social entity with Max Weber as an organic whole of complex autopoietic fields of communitization and self-conception, which for the theological perspective currently means: as a network of both theoretical and practical, or better: both reflexive and performative religious practices. Both dimensions should not be played off against each other, but should be thought of as complementary; they require each other – performance per se, however, is rather unreasonable, reflection per se rather bodiless.

Max Weber characterizes the three basic types of basic religious phenomena – mass, virtuoso and intellectual religiosity – in dichotomous, even conflicting10 terms. The field in which he operates is the different expectations of salvation in the three milieus. First of all, mass religiosity, which Weber initially defines as the religiosity of the underprivileged:

“Every need for redemption is the expression of a ‘need’, and social or economic oppression is therefore by no means the exclusive source of its emergence, but it is naturally a very effective one. The specific need [of the negatively privileged] is redemption from suffering. They do not always feel this need for redemption in a religious form – not, for example, the modern proletariat. Above all, [their need for redemption] can be coupled in very different ways with the need for just ‘retribution’. Retribution for one’s own good works and retribution for the injustice of others. Next to magic and connected with it, a mostly quite ‘calculating’ expectation of retribution and hope of retribution is therefore the most widespread form of mass belief on the whole earth. “11

For Weber, however, the term ‘mass’ does not primarily refer to the quantity of believers, but rather to a certain mode of their religiosity, so that it applies both to (quantitatively decreasing) popular religious currents in the mainstream Christian churches and to the large but closely linked to the other Christian denominations, churches or Islam in the sense of a simple religiosity that requires little education and is reflected above all in visible orthopraxy (pilgrimages, religious and ethical observance, etc.). ). For Weber, the term also initially refers to a lay population to be catered for, which does not muster enough energy to share the lifestyle of the religious elites and their special ethics.12

Weber characterizes as religious heroes or virtuosos those charismatics13 or the religiously “supremely gifted” whose “claims […] are supreme, but not decisive for everyday ethics. “14 Specifically, Weber mentions the “ancient Christian ‘ascetics’ expressly recognized as a special status in the community, the Pauline and even more so the Gnostic pneumatics, the pietistic ‘ecclesiola’, all actual sects, i.e. sociologically: associations that only accept the religiously qualified into themselves, finally all monastic communities”.15

The incompatibility that still essentially determines the situation of Christian churches and denominations in the West and North, both within Christianity and above all between the Christian hemisphere on the one hand and the Islamic hemisphere on the other, could therefore well – and this is my main suggestion here – be summarized as that between mass religion and intellectual religion. Weber identifies the birth of the religious intellectual with the bearers of the ‘Jewish Enlightenment’, i.e. the prophets.16 This concept of redemption is also a class-specific one and, in Weber’s eyes, ultimately catalyzed by socio-economic factors:

“Always the redemption that the intellectual seeks is a redemption from ‘inner distress’ and therefore, on the one hand, of a character more alien to life, and on the other, more principled and systematically grasped, than the redemption from outer distress that is proper to the non-privileged classes. The intellectual seeks to give his way of life a continuous ‘meaning’, i.e. ‘unity’ with himself, with man, with the cosmos, in ways whose casuistry goes to infinity. It is he who carries out the conception of the ‘world’ as a problem of ‘meaning’. The more the intellectual pushes back the belief in magic, and thus the processes of the world are disenchanted […] the more urgent grows the demand on the world and the ‘conduct of life’ as a whole that they be ordered in a meaningful and ‘sensible’ way. “17

Up to this point, it has become clear that Weber’s distinction between mass and intellectual religion is a fundamental one, which should always be taken into account as the result of specific socio-cultural stratification or milieu formation, especially when looking at otherworldly ideas of salvation – i.e. those of the monotheistic religions, above all Christianity and Islam. Only the two together, possibly supplemented by a third narrow layer of clergy and / or religious virtuosos in the orders, result in a high religion. Each milieu on its own, on the other hand, is hardly capable of surviving, as we are currently experiencing in reverse under the conditions of reflexive modernity in both Christianity and Islam. Only the regulated coexistence of all the religious subsystems described by Weber is quite biblical, especially according to the Pauline corporate understanding of the church as the “body of Christ”, existential and at the same time capable of surviving in the accelerated modern age, but at the same time obviously particularly threatened because of its differentiating and thus centripetal forces.

Religion and enlightenment

Like many other terms, the term “enlightenment” has unfortunately lost its innocence and purity. The noble sapere aude from Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?” has – in a strong reception of the French Enlightenment paradigm à la Voltaire, i.e. hostile to religion and the church – become a weapon against those who “still believe and do not yet think “18 . We notice this more when the Voltairean paradigm is directed against us Christians, but unfortunately less so when it is directed against Muslims – as is currently the case.

However, it has probably already become clear that thinking in terms of the alternative of an unenlightened (Muslim) religion on the one hand and a (Christian) European enlightenment, even in the sense of two completely separable “cultures” in Huntington’s sense, does not work. Both religions and also the non-religious parts of currently valid worldviews are affected by a comprehensive dialectic of enlightenment, but Islam in a completely different way.

Even unruly critics of Islam, perhaps even “enemies” such as the Freiburg scholar Abdel-Hamid Ourgi,19 concede that Islam has historically been close to traditions of rational or philosophical criticism, especially in its formative, i.e. theology-forming epoch in the power centers of Baghdad, Cairo, Fez or Cordoba between the 8th and 12th centuries. Here, Islam was far ahead of the Christian northwest of Eurasia in every respect, including theology and philosophy. There can therefore be no question of Islam being essentially incapable of reflection. The conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols and the takeover of power in liberal Cordoba by orthodox Berbers, as well as the Christian Reconquista and the emergence of the Ottoman Empire – events in world history, not the history of ideas – brought this blessed epoch to an end. The gate of Iqtihad, i.e. free theological reflection on the normative sources of Islam, was closed once and for all and four schools of law and the conservative Qaritchite school of theologians Al Gahzali took over the leadership. Together with the political power gained by Saudi Wahabism, the North African Muslim Brotherhood and Erdoğan’s Turkish AKP in the last century, a time bomb developed that has not stopped exploding since 9/11.

What is needed on the Islamic side is a “reopening” of the “gate of igtihãd”, which was closed in the 12th century, and not only at German or North American universities. This would restore the old tradition of controversial theological discourse at Islamic universities to its rightful place. At the same time, however, Muslims all over the world (as commanded in nostra aetate) would have to be approached with respect for their personal dignity and their ancient intellectual and cultural heritage as well as their colonial history of suffering and discussed with them on an equal footing. This is a task that seems almost impossible to solve today in view of the growing mistrust on all sides due to the threat of terrorism.

In order to open such a dialog on a broad basis, without depriving the Islamic religion of its modern-critical sting or even consigning it to its dissolution in the acid bath of secularism, economic and political relaxation and an end to the unjust dictatorships that only convey a perverted image of human rights and democracy would first have to occur in the regions mentioned. For only on the basis of orderly conditions and a certain degree of prosperity can theology be pursued in peace. This is the only way to make the unemployed masses of North Africa and the Middle East unreceptive to fundamentalist preachers of hate, who only ever know one culprit for their complex situation: the corrupt and godless West, which has always spoken with a forked tongue.

But Western intellectuals will also have to rethink if they no longer want to stand idly by in the face of under-complex arguments and sometimes hopeless political action, but instead offer alternative – and above all complex and dialog-oriented – approaches to an inescapable source of conflict. Whether they will succeed in at least partially abandoning the anti-religious concept of rationality of the French Enlightenment remains to be seen. However, the first signs of such a rethink are clearly perceptible among previously secular-oriented thinkers, such as Jürgen Habermas,20 where they have begun to affirmatively incorporate the phenomenon of religion back into their thinking.

A self-criticism of the Christian history of violence exists, but should be recalled from time to time. A self-criticism of European colonialism is still outstanding and urgently needed. In addition, further self-critical questions need to be asked: How old are our modernization efforts? Where does the Catholic Church in particular still lag behind? What does Christianity have to offer in terms of its own norms that does not also have to be called thoroughly unfashionable? Does simple modernization help? How consistently do we “moderns” always uncritically accept the shoals of modernity such as sexism, totalitarianism, consumerism, economism and post-colonialism?

Those who see themselves as part of a complex religious system will perhaps see the other more clearly because they can now see the “fundamentalist” or “intellectual” or “modernist” believer more as a neighboring part of the whole of their own religion. He or she will not intellectually underestimate the inescapability of origin and social placement and will treat it more respectfully when encountering it in others. Perhaps the intellectual will even discover his or her own longings for unquestionable certainties in their own heart or in their own religious practice.

Such a complementary model á la Max Weber can perhaps awaken interest in the “stubborn southern European Catholic” in exploring his or her own rational parts. For years, I have seen young Muslims studying Islamic theology as being extremely hungry for advancement and therefore knowledge – once again, sociological and theological motives intertwine. The same applies to us in the “Haus am Dom” in Frankfurt am Main with a group of free-church young adults who, in their search for a theological penetration of their faith, have turned to us Catholics of all people with our great friendliness to reason and not to the brothers and sisters of the Protestant regional church.

And finally, the appealing mantra of those experienced in dialog in this country should not be missing: Dismantle the structures of fear, exclusion and class society, let Muslims and other migrants into the vaults and power centers of our society, let them feel the taste of freedom without forcing them into secularism. Those who only see duties and do not grant rights, who deny their own colonial history and current contexts of oppression, need not be surprised at the hatred of the victims and their seductiveness by clever and demagogic pied pipers.

    1 Samuel Phillips Huntington: Clash of Civilizations. The reshaping of world politics in the 21st century. Munich 51998, 68.
    2 Martin Riesebrodt: The return of religions. Munich 2001.
    3 Ibid. 75, further page references at a similar point in the text.
    4 Max Weber: Economy and Society. (ca. 1914-1924) Tübingen 51972, 278.
    5 Riesebrodt 101.
    6 Riesebrodt, 85 ff.
    7 Riesebrodt, 93.
    8 Ahmad Mansour: Generation Allah. Why we need to rethink the fight against religious extremism. Frankfurt am Main 2017.
    9 Cf. inter alia: Michael N. Ebertz: For a milieu-sensitive communication strategy. In: Communicatio Socialis 39 (3/2006), 253-261.
    10 Kalberg’s helpful reflections also show that Weber “was an important ‘conflict theorist’”. Ibid. 47.
    11 Weber (note 4), 299 f.
    12 Ibid. 310.
    13 Weber defines charisma as the “extra-ordinary […] quality of a personality […] for the sake of which it is regarded as […] god-sent or exemplary and therefore as a leader.” Ibid. 140 With the universalization, charismatic rule leads to the forms of patrimonial, corporative or bureaucratic rule (ibid. 146). The pattern of institutionalized charisma can be found in popes and bishops as well as (derived from them) kings and emperors. Anti-authoritarian reinterpretations, for example in the sense of the freely elected or bureaucratically determined leader, are possible (ibid. 156).
    14 Ibid. 310.
    15 Max Weber: Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion I. Tübingen 1963, 259.
    16 Here, however, the typical weaknesses of Weber’s overly strong typification become visible: by no means all prophets of the OT can simply be characterized as intellectuals. Not to mention the fact that the term “intellectual” can only be understood from the sociological situation of the first half of the 20th century, in which Weber lived, and reveals the central intention of Weber’s work, which was not first and foremost a historical one, but consisted of “to come to grips with the fate of the individual in modernity”. Cf. Tomas Ekstrand: Max Weber in a Theological Perspective. Leuven 2000, 5.
    17 Weber (note 4), 307.
    18 As a representative of the aggressively secular Giordano Bruno Foundation, the philosopher Schmidt-Salomon underpins the false contradiction between faith and thought in the history of religion with ever new sham arguments, but is always seemingly confirmed by non-reflexive forms of religion. See, for example, his perfidious children’s book: Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott, fragte das kleine Ferkel. A book for all those who can’t be fooled. Aschaffenburg 2007; or: Keine Macht den Doofen! A polemic. Munich 2012.
    19 Cf. in addition to many journalistic statements in more detail: Abdel-Hakim Ourgi: Reform des Islam. 40 theses. Munich 2017.
    20 Jürgen Habermas: Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie: Band 1: Die okzidentale Konstellation von Glauben und Wissen; Band 2: Vernünftige Freiheit. Traces of the Discourse on Belief and Knowledge. Berlin 2019.

    Joachim Valentin, born 1965, Dr. theol., Director of the Catholic Center “Haus am Dom”, Frankfurt a.M. and Adjunct Professor of Theory of Religion and Culture at Goethe University Frankfurt a.M.

30 years since the fall of the Wall: Being Catholic in East Germany (the GDR)
By Christof Wolf
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/10-2019/30-jahre-mauerfall-katholik-sein-in-der-ddr/.]

Some time ago, I spent a week of contemplation in the Dominican monastery of St. Albert in Leipzig, which was rebuilt after the fall of the Wall. In the evening, I went for a walk in the area. All the houses in the area were spruced up, a well-tended garden, then the new building of the Benno publishing house. Everything seemed colorful and peaceful. Nevertheless, I felt a strange sadness and emptiness. Has socialism, with its naïve scientific materialism, driven the soul out of people? Where does one get one’s self-esteem from when ultimately nothing spiritual or religious exists? What a difficult legacy…

And then a memorable letter, sender: BSTU – the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records. I open the letter a little nervously. So now I’m going to know what information the Stasi has collected about me. There are two documents: one is the entry in a VSH (“Vorverdichtungs-, Such- und Hinweiskartei”) of Department XX/7 Karl-Marx-Stadt and a file with the signature Kul 349/1. It contains a note from my former training institution, the “Städtische Theater Karl-Marx-Stadt”, with my personal details from 1987 and a copy of a travel request dated 24 January 1989. was written on it by hand by the Stasi employee, meaning: “do not delete”. This meant that the Stasi file on my person was maintained. Why was I of interest to the Stasi as an apprentice? What would have happened if the GDR had continued to exist?

In the Stasi file about my father – a whole A4 folder! – I was also mentioned. It was because my class teacher wanted to talk to my parents about why “their son was not allowed to become a member of the pioneer organization ‘Ernst Thälmann’, even though he was doing very well at school and would like to take part in the pioneer work himself.” My class teacher’s husband was a major in the Stasi and she must have told him about me. Even today, I admire the clarity of my parents, who, as practicing Catholics, did not submit to the ideology of the GDR and saved my siblings and me from it. At first I thought that I would be able to read the file just like that, but after the first few pages I realized that I had no context for it at all.

My father and I then spent a whole day on it together. It was emotionally exhausting, especially reading the reports by informal Stasi employees, which had obviously been written voluntarily. My mother then admonished us not to get so upset. After such a long time, we should be at peace with it. But there were two elementary things that shook our minds: the spying in society had violated our basic trust in people in the worst possible way. Who could I really trust? Where could I really think freely and say so out loud? The second is more a question of character: hardly anyone stands by their role as a perpetrator, and many of those who were on top back then are on top again today – apart from prominent exceptions such as Gerhard Gundermann. Just think of the case of Gregor Gysi, in which the immunity committee of the German Bundestag came to the conclusion in 1998 that Gysi had “used his prominent professional position as one of the few lawyers in the GDR to protect the political order of the GDR from his clients as a lawyer for internationally known opposition figures. […] The aim of this activity […] was to suppress the democratic opposition in the GDR as effectively as possible”. How do the people and society that were shaped by the GDR mentality deal with this thirty years later? And how do those who did not have to experience it see it?

The difference between the two German states was not only in the political system, liberal basic order versus dictatorship of the proletariat, or in two different economic systems, here a social market economy, there a socialist planned economy. The experience of the church was also different. I grew up in a parallel world: on the one hand my school friends and on the other my friends in the church community. They had no points of contact. Separate circles of relationships, separate worlds of thought. The church offered a real alternative to actually existing socialism. In a way, the indoctrination in civics lessons led to an early politicization in my youth. Not many young people today would think of dealing with subsidiarity, solidarity and personality, i.e. Catholic social teaching, at the age of 13. It was normal for us back then – and we enjoyed the freedom of thought in our enclave. The church was a place of freedom. Shouldn’t it also be possible today to experience the church as such a place again and again?

    Christof Wolf SJ (*1970 in Chemnitz) is CEO and Executive Producer of Loyola Productions Munich GmbH and DOK TV & Media GmbH. He has been giving film retreats since 2004.

Ratzinger’s blind spot: The director of the documentary “Defender of the Faith”

On October 31, “Defender of the Faith”, a film about the pontificate of Benedict XVI, will be released in cinemas. Christoph Röhl paints the picture of a tragic personality who was always concerned with the truth and the holy Catholic Church, but who lost sight of the crises of the times. The director lives in Berlin and is originally from the south of England. He became famous with a film about abuse at the Odenwald School.
By Christoph Röhl
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/10-2019/ratzingers-blinder-fleck-der-regisseur-zum-dokumentarfilm-verteidiger-des-glaubens-/.]

What drives a non-believer, who enjoyed a liberal upbringing in the south of England far from the Church, to make a film about the life and work of the conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his crisis-ridden tenure as Pope Benedict XVI and the symbolic significance of his resignation for the Catholic Church as a whole? In the many years that I have been working on the film, this is the question that I have been asked again and again. Of course, now that the movie is finished, I am encountering it more than ever, and you would think that I would have a good answer ready by now. But in fact I still have great difficulty answering it.

The idea to make the movie was born in 2012. I had just finished “And We Are Not the Only Ones”, a documentary about abuse at the Odenwald School, and was preparing my feature film “The Chosen Ones”, which also deals with abuse at this school – this time with the phenomenon of the environment looking the other way. In this context, I had close contact with those affected from the Catholic context, first and foremost with the former pupils of the Canisius College in Berlin, whose services in clarifying the cases of abuse contributed directly to uncovering the scandal at the Odenwald School. I met with Matthias Katsch, the representative of those affected by the Corner Table, and with the rector at the time, Father Klaus Mertes, whose groundbreaking letter of January 2010 was instrumental in forcing those responsible at the Odenwaldschule to finally come to terms with their own abuse past. Together with Matthias Katsch, I was invited by Prof. Jörg Fegert, the renowned psychiatrist and researcher,1 to his university hospital in Ulm to examine police prevention measures. And so we ended up sitting together that evening in a pub at the foot of Ulm Cathedral and talking about the similarities and differences – from a systemic perspective – between the abuse at the liberal reformist Odenwald School and the Catholic Church. We asked ourselves whether we could make a film about the Catholic Church similar to the one about the Odenwaldschule. And then we had the idea: we’re not going to make a movie about the Catholic Church. A project like that would be far too big. No. Instead, we are making a film about the person Ratzinger, whose biography in a strange way spans and reflects the history of the Church over the last 60 years, including its flirtation with reforms in the 1960s, its subsequent reluctance to open “Pandora’s box” and its subsequent restoration efforts.

So far so good. But as a filmmaker you always have a lot of ideas, and many of them disappear the next day. After the initial euphoria, they turn out to be too difficult, not feasible or, on sober reflection, simply not good enough. In addition, it was clear from the outset that such a project would involve enormous challenges and risks, especially for me, which should have had a deterrent effect on me. After all, Ratzinger is a political issue, a deeply controversial figure who divides opinion. For some he is a figurehead, for others a spectre. As a non-Catholic in particular, you quickly find yourself on slippery ground. But the project was also fraught with various risks for technical reasons. Without access to insiders, confidants, image archives and filming locations – all things that cannot be taken for granted at the notoriously secretive Vatican – such a film is doomed to failure. But despite these hurdles and difficulties, I was prepared to tackle the film and see it through. Why?

The question is difficult for me to answer because the decision to make the film initially had to do with a feeling. With an intuition. I looked at photographs and archive footage of Joseph Ratzinger and instinctively saw an opportunity to tell a much bigger story beyond his person. There was something paradigmatic about him. Something exemplary. As if under a burning glass, I saw in the man Ratzinger the potential to make a universal statement about the institutional church beyond his private life and lifestyle: about its culture, its way of thinking, its motivations and its way of acting.

At that time, in early 2012, Vatileaks had not yet happened and it was not even clear that Pope Benedict would resign. I would never have thought it possible that events in the Vatican would provide me with so many dramatic twists and turns! And what’s more, with Benedict’s resignation, I suddenly not only had a symbolic figure as the main protagonist for my story, but also a tragic hero. “His actual intentions, his intentions, his will to live, which was directed towards the good, towards salvation, towards God’s love for mankind – he was unable to realize this,” says Professor Wolfgang Beinert, a companion of Ratzinger and his assistant during his time in Regensburg, in my film. “That’s precisely where he tragically failed again and again.” In fact, Ratzinger’s tragic failure and his disastrous departure, which were expressed almost like a movie in the footage of him flying away in the papal helicopter, did not escape many people’s notice. In his interview, Klaus Mertes even speaks of a “tragedy in the classic sense”: “Here was someone who really wanted to serve the Church and proclaim the Gospel, but by the way he did it, he did damage to the whole.”

Mertes is referring to the tragedy heroes of ancient Greece – Oedipus, Iocaste and Laius. The more I learned about Ratzinger, the more I wondered whether Ratzinger was not much more comparable to Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. Was he really blind like Oedipus, or did he, like Macbeth, bring guilt upon himself with his eyes open? After all, he was a man who was apparently prepared to put up with a lot in order to see the supposedly divine goals of the church realized. He believed that an authoritarian, hierarchically structured, conformist Orthodox Church was necessary to form a “bulwark” against evil, which he described as a “dictatorship of relativism”. In order to protect and preserve what is good, order must be maintained, and that from above. It was necessary to take action against dissenting theologians and progressive bishops who advocated an unorthodox interpretation of the magisterium. And even more than that: Tony Flannery, the Irish priest who was reprimanded by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for unorthodox opinions on topics such as the ordination of women and compulsory celibacy, recounts in the film how he was spied on. “You constantly felt like you were being watched and asked yourself: What will the superiors think? What will the bishop think?” Flannery describes how worshippers sat in front of him in the pews during his sermons and took notes. “There were people who felt it was their duty to report to the Vatican anything they felt was disorderly, or ‘heretical’ as they called it. And the monstrous thing was that the Vatican listened to them.”

System of control

In my film, Prof. Hermann Häring is given the role of describing the resulting system of “control” that arose from “fear and caution”. “People no longer had the courage to speak out critically because they knew that the eyes and ears of the Vatican were everywhere,” he says. The fact that such a system inevitably leads to victims being produced is one thing. The fact that it actually carries the seeds of its own failure is the other side. At least one result of this autocratically run system was, as Flannery explains in the film, “that men were promoted to the leadership of the church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI who were ultra-orthodox… and thus almost inevitably lacked any leadership quality because they were incapable of thinking independently.” Especially in the context of the abuse crisis, this personnel policy, which demanded unconditional obedience to the institution and mistrusted independent thinking, would prove to be a heavy burden.

Ratzinger himself was never able to see that his concept of an authoritarian church did not prevent abuse but, on the contrary, encouraged it. That was his “blind spot”, his tragic mistake, if you like. Yet the lessons of all serious scientific studies on this topic are clear: institutions that have flat hierarchies and transparent, democratic structures, in which the principles of accountability, separation of powers and good governance are guaranteed, have a better chance of putting a stop to abuse. Because abuse always goes hand in hand with abuse of power, people who have been educated to be autonomous and are not afraid to question authority are better equipped to defend themselves. These are the findings of all the experts. They show that the causes of abuse must be viewed systemically. It makes no difference whether this system is ideologically “left-wing” – as in the case of the BBC or Hollywood or the 1968 movement, to take the popular example of Ratzinger – or “right-wing” – as in the case of strict religious communities and associations.

The Odenwald School is a perfect example of this. This school was only permissive and liberal on the outside. In fact, behind the façade there was an authoritarian system in which the principal Gerold Becker pulled all the strings like a puppet master. He created a culture without rules in which blackmail and dependencies were created, for example by bringing teachers to the school who had no pedagogical training and who had no business being at a school. Meanwhile, the myth of the much-vaunted “beacon of German pedagogy” was being propagated, while the evil “cram schools hostile to children’s souls” of the outside world were demonized. Anyone who did not share these glorified dogmas or even critically questioned them was bullied and had to leave. Only those who conformed were allowed to stay – and with their complicity, consciously or unconsciously, knowingly or unknowingly, they facilitated a system in which weak children were made submissive to the authoritarian principal Gerold Becker and his accomplices and were left defenceless. This was the system at the Odenwald School. However, these basic mechanisms are transferable to all institutions and systems – including the Catholic Church.

However, Ratzinger did not have an eye for these systemic causes of the abuse crisis. The reasons for this say a lot about him, as well as about the church system. That’s why the abuse scandal takes up so much space in my film. In contrast to other cardinals and officials who simply denied the abuse, Cardinal Ratzinger increasingly understood the dimension of the abuse problem and the associated danger for the Church from the mid-1980s onwards. After Anglo-Saxon bishops began to panic in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to a number of shocking scandals and desperately sought solutions in Rome, Ratzinger even felt compelled to act. With the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela in 2001, he ensured that all suspected cases of priest abuse worldwide were to be forwarded directly to him. In my film, Archbishop Charles Scicluna explains what happened afterwards and how horrified Ratzinger reacted.

But the crux of the matter is that at the same time, authoritarian action was being taken again: The problem was not to be solved at grassroots level, but centrally in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In addition, the criminal proceedings were to be conducted in the strictest secrecy with reference to the “papal secret”. In this way, Ratzinger succeeded in taking some priestly sex offenders out of circulation in private, but otherwise the problem remained unsolved in his principles. His approach did not do justice to the victims of sexual abuse, and ultimately it did not help the Church either – firstly because the Church itself was also guilty of covering up, and secondly because the Church was thus deprived of the chance to learn from its mistakes. Certainly, Ratzinger wanted to protect the Church with his actions. But he had exactly the opposite effect. This testifies to the crisis in which the Church is still mired today. An effective investigation, on the other hand, should have led to an understanding of the systemic origins of abuse and cover-ups. If the individual cases had been properly investigated, even some of the more absurd ideas that some officials still hold today – for example that there is a causality between sexual abuse and homosexuality – would have been dispelled. What the institution might also have understood is how the cover-up works, which is the real institutional scandal for the church.

Despite all the criticism, and even though I wanted to take a look at the institution of the church from an atheist perspective, it was important to me in my film to first understand Ratzinger’s protective instinct. In general, I first wanted to take his faith seriously, accept his church policy goals, take him at his word. After all, I didn’t want to measure him by my own standards, but by his. It was therefore important to me to do justice to his love for his church, which was undoubtedly authentic and heartfelt, and to make it tangible for the viewer through expressionistic images and sounds: through shots like those I took in Bavaria and Ireland, for example. That’s why I start the film with statements that describe what it means to belong to a religious community like a family: “The whole of life is imbued with a great joy at being allowed to belong and live in this culture.” This sentence is spoken by Klaus Mertes, but could just as easily have come from Ratzinger. The same applies to Georg Gänswein’s sentence: “Those who experience such things are very lucky. Or receives a great gift as a result. Blessed is he, blessed is he who can have this experience for the rest of his life.” For a non-believer like me, these are feelings that you first have to make sense of. Through my encounters with Catholics from many countries, I have indeed come to appreciate what it means for people to have such experiences of faith. I have even developed an understanding of what is so worth protecting. The only question I asked myself was: at what cost? Not if the ideal of the church becomes an end in itself and more important than the fate of individual people.

Pact with the devil: The Legionaries of Christ

In the film, the price that is paid in the worst case scenario is nowhere more clearly visible than in the character of Marcial Maciel. Ratzinger thought he had seen the realization of a Catholic utopia in the charismatic Maciel and his tightly organized Legionaries of Christ. Maciel and his legionaries rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and seemed to be allies in the fight against “the smoke of Satan”, “which has entered the church through the cracks in the walls” (Häring). Ratzinger called them a “spiritual militia”, and together with them he wanted to help the Church regain its strength. In reality, however, the prefect of the faith had made a pact with the devil. This is shown by the long list of Maciel’s crimes that gradually came to light. These offenses are so breathtaking, abysmal and sinister that I couldn’t possibly depict them in full in the film, because otherwise it would simply have become unbearable.

Maciel was a serial abuser, a drug addict, plagiarist, cheat and bigamist. He had a daughter with a woman. When Maciel was acclaimed by Pope John Paul II and the hierarchy at his 60th anniversary as a priest in Rome, he was accompanied by his family. While his celibate life was being celebrated, he spent the night with her in one of the many apartments he had in Rome. With another woman, who was 22 years old when he met her at the age of 60, he fathered two more sons. He abused the older of the two and his half-brother as well. Many details of this heinous story only became known in 2009, but Ratzinger was demonstrably aware of the abuse allegations and the existence of the daughter long before then. In any case, he knew enough to actually have to intervene.

Despite the seriousness of his crime, Maciel was only sentenced to a life of “penance and prayer”. As shown in the movie, he didn’t even stick to it and lived the rest of his life in luxury. Yet despite all the evidence, Benedict showed himself unwilling to grasp the dimension of Maciel’s deceit. He merely described him as a “mysterious figure” who, despite his “adventurous, lost, twisted life”, had built up a community full of “strength” and “dynamism”: “That is the strange thing, the contradiction, that a false prophet, so to speak, could have a positive effect.” But these “good fruits” also proved to be an illusion. A number of priests and seminarians who have left the Legionary Order and accuse the Legion of cult-like conditions bear witness to this. Xavier Leger speaks for many who have been victims of this “spiritual abuse”. In the film, he impressively describes how Legionary members were forced into a relationship of total dependency and robbed of their own will. These are phenomena of religious enslavement of people that are also familiar in the context of non-Christian sects.

“The angel of darkness sometimes appears in the guise of an angel of light,” says Beinert in reference to the legionaries. But how could such a great theologian as Ratzinger be so wrong about the discernment of spirits? Didn’t Jesus himself say that a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit? Did Maciel’s priestly utopia blind Ratzinger to the deceit, lies and other crimes that took place behind the façade? Was his longing for a golden, lost time in which the world was supposedly still in order his Achilles’ heel? Did he allow himself to be manipulated by the “ingenious seducer”, as the former legionnaire Pablo Perez describes in the film Maciel? Or was he simply prepared to accept the dark side of Maciel and the legionnaires? Did he see the future of the church in the legionaries of Christ? Was the main thing for him that the legionaries were supposedly still able to serve the church with their “good fruits” or with their “great, enthusiastic young priests” and help it regain its former strength? There we have it again, the question: Oedipus or Macbeth?

Symbolically, however, the legionaries in my film embody far more than just corruption and abuse. They also represent a Manichean mentality, which was shared by Ratzinger, and which runs like a red thread through the whole movie. It is a mentality that sees the Church as being in possession of the absolute truth. It is there for the salvation of the world and therefore must not be attacked, not even in the form of critical questions. It is “a house of glory high against all storms”, but it is surrounded by “enemies” and the devil and must therefore be protected at all costs. This mentality runs like a red thread through Ratzinger’s life. “Everything was always in perfect order in his parents’ house. […] There was nothing evil inside the circle. On the outside yes, but not on the inside,” says Beinert. However, the cover-up of the abuse cases, which was justified and legitimized by this mentality, ultimately shows where this logic can lead. Marie Collin’s story about the bishop, who only became outraged about the sexual abuse of children when he learned that Marie’s abuser had abused her with the same hand that he used shortly afterwards to hold the host that was so sacred to him (but shouldn’t her body have been just as sacred, Marie asks?), also shows where this can lead. When you get to the point where you see the faith of the church as the real victim and no longer the children, then it becomes clear that something is no longer right.

Denial of reality

And perhaps this is what I intuitively saw in Ratzinger all along, but always found difficult to express: I saw in his person the embodiment of this absolute claim to truth that must be protected for everything in the world, which meant that other truths could not be admitted. But such a refusal to deal with the actual reality cannot go on for long, because at some point there comes a point when these truths can no longer be denied – especially not when they are the dignified truths of victims crying out for justice. At some point, the cognitive dissonance becomes too great. At some point, you are faced with the choice of either giving up your own ideals and your own absolute, unchangeable truths and approaching people – or insisting on the utopian ideal – because you have declared it sacred – and accepting that this denies the truths of other people. In my opinion, it is this second path that has led to a dead end, to a crisis. It has led to good and faithful people and their truths being defamed, discredited, disavowed or, as Tom Doyle puts it in my film, “sacrificed” in favor of the hierarchy.

Perhaps it took an outsider from outside the church, who grew up without faith and was not so attached to what is so beautiful and worth protecting about the Catholic faith, to express exactly that.

    Christoph Röhl from the south of England became known in Germany primarily for his film about abuse at the Odenwald School. His documentary about Benedict XVI was released in the fall of 2019. Röhl lives in Berlin.

The Kremlin and the Church
By Klaus Mertes
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/9-2019/kreml-und-kirche/.]

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently took stock of the “Western system” in the Financial Times (28.6.2019): “The liberal idea assumes that nothing needs to be done – that migrants can kill, rob and rape with impunity because their rights need to be protected.” It expands the legal rights of certain groups of people to such an extent that it can no longer protect society against the same people if they break the law. This also applies to other groups of people: Russians may have no problem with lesbians, gays and transgender people, but “have we forgotten that we all live in a world based on biblical values?” Conclusion: The “liberal idea” surrenders the people’s right to protect their existence and their cultural traditions to so-called fundamental rights, which are loudly demanded and enforced by problematic minorities against the interests of the majority.

The transfer of the mortal remains of the exiled philosopher Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954) from Switzerland to Moscow in 2005 was a cultural-political signal for an anti-liberal orientation in Russia. There they were buried with ceremonial pomp in the cemetery of the Donskoy Monastery. Today, Ilyin is regarded as the Russian president’s pet philosopher. A fierce opponent of the October Revolution of 1917, he was exiled from Russia in 1922. Once in Germany, he wrote an appeal to fight against Bolshevik Russia. In it, he formulated – against Tolstoy – a “virile” morality that he believed was compatible with Christianity and justified violence in the name of the good. The Russian philosopher of religion Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948), who also referred to Dostoyevsky among others, criticized Ilyin’s “martial Christianity” as a white version of red totalitarianism. It is therefore – incidentally – not entirely ideologically consistent when, a few days after Putin’s lightning visit to the Vatican on July 4, 2019, the Kremlin proudly announced that Pope Francis always had books by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky on his desk.

Ilyin welcomed National Socialism: “Patriotism, belief in the identity of the German people and in the power of the Germanic genius, a sense of honor, willingness to self-sacrifice, discipline, social justice, cross-class, fraternal and national unity – this spirit is the fundamental substance of the entire movement.” However, Ilyin refused to actively recruit Russian emigrants to the Nazi ideology and therefore had to leave Germany in 1938. Looking back, he criticized the mistakes of National Socialism, but remained true to his own basic inspirations. Today, his texts sound like prophetic proclamations: After a “few years of chaos”, a “democratic dictatorship” would free Russia from chaos, rather than a “formal democracy” based on the Western model. It would then be led by a “leader who knows what to do …; serves instead of making a career; fights instead of playing an extra role; strikes the enemy instead of proclaiming empty words; steers instead of selling out to foreign countries” (quoted in Michel Eltchaninoff: In Putins Kopf. Stuttgart 2016, 48 ff.).

In Russia today, the Kremlin and the Church form a holy alliance under the auspices of a “symphony” between Orthodoxy and Great Russian nationalism. Warning voices such as those of the Orthodox priest Alexander Men, who was murdered in 1990, seem to have faded away. He had concluded from the experiences of Russian history that these must “lead to the renunciation of the idea of state religion, which had so many analogies with Stalinism, regardless of whether we are talking about Calvin’s Geneva or Khomeini’s Tehran” (Alexander Men: Let’s erect the altars. In: Igor Pochoshajew. Frankfurt am Main 2007, 124). Today, one has to search with a magnifying glass for interlocutors of his stature in Russian Orthodoxy.

One day after Putin’s lightning visit, Ukrainian bishops were guests at the Vatican. Francis criticized the hybrid warfare in eastern Ukraine without mentioning Russia by name. It is indeed not easy to pull the strings in the dialog between the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodoxy in such a way that the knots are loosened instead of tightening even further. A common front against a distorted image of “Western liberalism”, as not only Putin and hierarchs of the Orthodox Church, but also circles in the Catholic Church right up to the Vatican, like to portray it, could be an option. A look at Ilyin shows that such common fronts would be nothing new, and that they have achieved nothing good either. Martial Christianity also sets peoples against each other who call themselves Christian. The common enemy only cements things together superficially.

    Klaus Mertes

    Superior of the Ignatius House in Berlin, editor of the cultural magazine STIMMEN DER ZEIT, studied classical philology and Slavic studies in Bonn and, after joining the Jesuit order, philosophy in Munich and theology in Frankfurt. He has worked as a teacher since 1990, first in Hamburg from 1990-1993 and then at Canisius College in Berlin from 1994-2011, where he was rector from 2000. From 2011 to 2020, he was Director of the International Jesuit College in Sankt Blasien.

“Justice and peace kiss”: Christians between Israel and Palestine

Christian minorities have always lived in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. David Neuhaus SJ tells the story of their role before and after the founding of the state of Israel and shows how they work for peace and justice in the Holy Land. The author grew up as the son of German Jews in South Africa. He moved to Israel at the age of fifteen and was baptized into the Catholic Church. He is the regional superior of the Jesuits in the Holy Land and teaches biblical theology in Bethlehem and Beit Jala.
By David Neuhaus
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/9-2019/gerechtigkeit-und-frieden-kuessen-sich-christen-zwischen-israel-und-palaestina/.]

On May 20, 2019, the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land published a statement entitled “Justice and Peace Will Kiss”. This new statement refocuses attention not only on the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land, but also on Christian Palestinians and their role in the conflict. The statement deserves a careful reading as it reveals the concerns of Christian Palestinians at this time:

The more recent developments in the Palestine-Israel context, the continued loss of life, the continued fading of any hope for a lasting solution, and the failure of the international community to insist on the application of international law to save the peoples of the land from further strife and despair, have reached a point where we perceive more extremism and discrimination. Even those who once claimed to be guardians of democracy and promoters of peace have become powerbrokers and partisan participants in the conflict.

This has led many to question whether international diplomacy and the peace process were based on justice and goodwill at all. Many in Palestine and Israel feel that their lives have become increasingly unbearable since the peace process was kick-started. Many have emigrated, many more are considering emigration and some see their way out in violence. Some die peacefully and others lose faith and hope.

Looking back over the past decades, when we have been promised peace and reconciliation but have only seen more hatred and oppression, corruption and demagoguery, it is time for the churches and spiritual leaders to show a different way and to insist that all, Israelis and Palestinians, are brothers and sisters within the human family. The churches take the position that we can love each other and live together in mutual respect and as equals, equal in rights and responsibilities in this same land. This is not just a dream, but the powerful foundation of a vision that moved our ancestors, the prophets.

Only a peace based on dignity, mutual respect and equality as human beings will save us, will allow us to survive and even inspire us in this land that the witness of our ancestors, the patriarchs and prophets has sanctified and that we continue to sanctify through our commitment to justice, our thirst for peace and the mutual love we show one another. We need a new orientation, a new education and a new vision for this land and the two peoples who live here.

We, the leaders of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land, stand on the side of all who live in this land, first and foremost as human beings. We are trying to show a way out of an ongoing situation of war, hatred and death. We are trying to show a way to a new life in this country based on the principles of equality and love. We emphasize that any solution – without distinction – must be based on the common good of all who live in this land.

We call on Christians in Palestine-Israel to unite their voices with Jews, Muslims, Druze and all others who share this vision of a society based on equality and the common good, and invite all to build bridges of mutual respect and love. The proposal of a two-state solution has led to nothing and is repeated without any prospect of realization. Indeed, all talk of political solutions in the current situation appears to be empty rhetoric.

We therefore advocate a vision of the future in which every person in this Holy Land has full equality, an equality that belongs to all men and women, created with equal dignity in the image and likeness of God. We believe that equality, beyond whatever political solutions may be found, is a fundamental and enduring condition for a just and lasting peace.

We have lived together in this land in the past, why should we not live together in the future? This is our vision for Jerusalem and the whole land called Israel and Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Guardians of hope

In the face of the despair that often dominates their faithful and leads to the temptation to withdraw from society and leave the land of their fathers, the shepherds do not give in to this despair, but formulate a vision for the future and the outlines of a struggle for this vision. In the Holy Land of today, Israel/Palestine, Christians have a calling to be guardians of hope.

Proud to be among the direct descendants of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians form an integral part of the Palestinian people who have experienced much adversity and tragedy since the mid-20th century due to the conflict that pitted Jewish Israelis against Palestinian Arabs in the Holy Land. Christian Palestinians form a very small part of the population in both Israel (about 2%) and Palestine (less than 2%). They belong to a variety of denominations, of which the Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic and a variety of Eastern Christian churches make up the bulk, alongside a small but influential group of Protestant congregations and evangelical groups. While the vast majority of Palestinians are Muslim, Christians have always played a significant role in the life of the people. Christians made up about 10% of the population in 1948, but today most Christian Palestinians live in a widespread diaspora in neighboring Arab states and around the world.

Christians were involved in the Arab cultural, social and political renaissance in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Among them, prominent thinkers, writers, poets, journalists and educators contributed to the formulation of contemporary Arab identity and distinctiveness. Christians also played a leading role in the development of the Palestinian national movement and its political leadership, which led the popular resistance to both British colonial rule and the development of Jewish Zionist institutions with British support after the First World War. Christians involved in the national movement promoted dialog and cooperation with Muslims in the common struggle to liberate their homeland from foreign rule. Christians also promoted a civic identity that would enable Christians and Muslims to come together as equals in society and in an independent secular and democratic state. Christian institutions in Palestine, especially the network of schools for Christians and Muslims, played an important role in this task.

After the establishment of the State of Israel on 78% of the territory of historic Palestine (the remaining 22% was occupied by Jordan and Egypt), many Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, became refugees overnight, losing their homes and livelihoods. Towns, villages and neighborhoods where Christians and Muslims had lived together were evacuated and repopulated with Jews or destroyed. Palestinians found themselves dispersed in three different areas: as a minority in Israel, which defined itself as a Jewish state; as residents and refugees in the Palestinian territories governed by Jordan (the West Bank with East Jerusalem) and Egypt (the Gaza Strip); and as refugees in a widely dispersed diaspora (within the Arab world and beyond).

In the 1950s and 1960s, Christians played a role in the growing movement to bring the Palestinian question to world consciousness. The events of 1948 were widely regarded as a catastrophe (the Arabic term used is “nakbah”) and the experience of flight became characteristic of the entire population, even those who stubbornly clung to their shul. When the Palestinian national movement gained momentum and led to the formation of the Palestine Liberation Movement (PLO) in the mid-1960s, Christians played a leading role in the PLO and promoted the establishment of a Palestinian state. Left-wing groups that advocated secularism and Marxism-Leninism, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were founded by the Christians George Habash and Naef Hawatmeh respectively.

Longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have resolutely filled prominent leadership roles with Christians, citing the unity of Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian. In the events that led to the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s and Yasser Arafat’s return to the West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian politician and intellectual, was and remains one of the most eloquent advocates of the Palestinian cause. Today, there are four Christian ministers in the Palestinian Authority government led by Mahmoud Abbas. At the same time, larger cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah, despite having a Muslim majority, retain the custom of appointing Christian mayors, who also ensure Christian influence in society. Christians have made their mark not only in politics, but also in culture, especially in literature, film and the press. Some of the most prominent treatises on the Palestinians as a people have been written by Christian nationalist authors such as George Antonius before 1948 and Edward Said after 1948.

As non-Jews in a Jewish state

The Palestinians who remained in the state of Israel after 1948 were placed under military rule, which was abolished at the beginning of 1966. But even today, Palestinians protest against their role as second-class citizens. Although they are fully integrated politically, they are subject to various forms of social, economic and developmental discrimination as “non-Jews” in a Jewish state. In the early years of the State of Israel, Christians and Muslims came together with some Jews to fight for equality within the Israeli Communist Party. In the years that followed, the political leadership of Israel’s Arab citizens splintered into different political parties that nevertheless remained united in the struggle for civic equality for all citizens and for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Christian Palestinian citizens have played a significant role in this struggle over the past seventy years and have been among the founding members of major political parties such as Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) and Balad (the Democratic National Alliance), which fight for equality and peace in the Israeli parliament.

In the early years, within the Palestinian national movement, religious identity, i.e. whether one was Christian or Muslim, played a subordinate role to the common national identity as the root of the common struggle. After the 1967 war, religious revolt became part of the response to another catastrophe in which the Israeli army defeated the armed forces of the surrounding Arab states. In the course of this war, Israel occupied the remaining part of the Palestinian territory. Secular Arab nationalist ideologies and the ruling class that had produced them were largely seen as failures, as they had produced dictatorial governments, often corrupt ones at that. The return to religion meant not only solace, but also a search for political alternatives. By the beginning of the first popular uprising in December 1987 against the Israeli occupation of the territories conquered in 1967, the Islamic movement in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel had established its own political structures and had begun to challenge the secular Palestinian ruling class. The insistence on Islamic symbolism and language led to unease among Christians, who saw it as a threat to the national unity expressed in the commitment to secularism by Christians and Muslims.

In the first uprising, known as the intifada, against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which began in 1987, Christians played a significant role in the resistance through forms of civil disobedience such as the refusal to pay taxes instituted by the citizens of the predominantly Christian town of Beit Sahour. The leadership of the churches in Jerusalem had undergone a remarkable process of indigenization. Slowly but steadily, Palestinians had replaced foreigners in leadership positions, beginning in the early 1970s with the Anglican and Lutheran churches and continuing in 1987 with the Catholic Church. By the late 1980s, church leaders began to speak more openly about issues of justice and peace in the Holy Land, raising awareness among the international community. Palestinian Christian theologians began to interpret the Scriptures within a Palestinian context and specifically the struggle for national liberation, trying to mobilize Christians worldwide to support the struggle for a free and democratic Palestine. The struggle was difficult as Palestinians had to liberate the Bible from the appropriation of Jewish and Christian Zionists who based the Jewish claim to Palestine on the biblical text and the sufferings of Jews in Europe.

The political processes that had led to the founding of the Palestinian Authority following the first Intifada, and which many had welcomed as the blossoming of a new era of hope, came to a standstill at the end of the 1990s. Finally, the Israelis stopped pursuing the establishment of a Palestinian state along Israel’s borders. A second popular uprising broke out in 2000 when the right-wing Likud party leader Ariel Sharon, who was elected Prime Minister shortly afterwards, insisted on entering the Haram al-Sharif (referred to by Jews as the “Temple Mount”). This uprising demonstrates the extent to which the struggle against the Israeli occupation had been Islamized, both oratorically and strategically. Many Christians remained reserved about the extreme violence of the Palestinian resistance, which also led to a number of suicide bombings. The importance of politicized religion has increased over the past twenty years among both extremist Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Muslims. The Christian response has been mixed. There are those who have resigned and seek to emigrate, either by leaving their homeland or by withdrawing from the public sphere, seeking refuge in closed Christian neighborhoods, institutions and clubs where contact with the outside world remains very reduced. There has also been a popular Christian revival of religious piety and the attraction of religious groups, including evangelicals, that promise spiritual liberation from the harsh realities of daily life under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and the ongoing struggle against continued discrimination in Israel.

On the fringes of Palestinian Christian society are those in Israel who are willing to give up their Palestinian Arab identity in the hope of being welcomed by Jewish Israeli society. This identification with Jewish Israeli society often goes hand in hand with a disparagement of their Muslim compatriots as intolerant fanatics, while at the same time applauding the Western style of society that Jews have adopted in Israel. The Israeli establishment has actively encouraged Christians to opt for military service in Israel and register as non-Arabs, occasionally claiming an “Aramaic” rather than a Palestinian Arab identity. A similar policy was applied to the Druze Palestinian citizens of Israel in the 1950s, encouraging them to enlist in the Israeli army (military service became compulsory for Druze in 1956) and simply pretend to be Druze (rather than Arab). However, full assimilation into Jewish Israeli society and the acquisition of equal rights was undermined by the state’s insistence on its Jewish character, which was reaffirmed in the “Jewish State Law” of July 2018, which emphasized the central role of Jewish identity and the Hebrew language. The Druze organized massive protests against the law, while other Arab citizens saw it as further proof that a state defined as Jewish would not grant equal rights to its Arab citizens.

Christians in the struggle for peace and justice

Election results in Israel and analyses of political opinion in Israel and Palestine show that most Christian Palestinians see themselves as Palestinian Arabs and that they support political parties that promote a peaceful solution to the conflict and full civic equality in the two political entities. The Palestinian movement “Kairos”, which emerged from the 2009 document of the same name published by Christians, testifies to this orientation. What could be the specific contribution of Christians in the struggle for peace and justice today?

Firstly, the Christian-Palestinian perspective is formulated within the framework of Palestinian and Israeli society. From there, Christians are called to deliver a prophetic message that breaks down stereotypes and promotes a culture of dialog based on the humanity of the other. Christians are constantly invited by the Church to be leaven in society, not to seek isolation or separation from Muslims and Jews, but to fill their rightful place as fellow citizens in society and to express their vision of a society based on values that ensure respect for each individual. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace saw it this way:

“Christians are not a bridge between the two parties to the conflict, but rather a leaven within the society to which they belong, cultivating a vision of life that corresponds to the Gospel. They are not called to close themselves off to their compatriots, but rather encouraged to play an active role in society, promoting a view of man and society based on Gospel values”

(The present conflict in the Holy Land, 1.9.2016).

Second, Christian speech will endeavor to respect the narrative of each of the two parties involved in the conflict over control of the Holy Land. This respect for the narrative recognizes not only the dispossession of the Palestinians and their cry for justice, but also the tragic episodes in the history of the Jews that led them to seek a homeland in Palestine. Christian educational institutions try to strongly instill this respect in all who study there.

Third, a fundamental distrust of political speech based on theocratic or ethnocentric viewpoints characterizes Christian speech. Christians promote a politics of healthy secularism in which religion is respected but does not determine political realities. Furthermore, the civil rights of all citizens must take precedence over an ethnocentrism that privileges one ethnic, national or linguistic group over others. Furthermore, Christians insist that the conflict is not of a religious nature, but rather one between two national movements, the Jewish-Israeli and the Palestinian-Arab. Unfortunately, religion, its scriptures and symbols have been manipulated with the aim of promoting and radicalizing the claims of each side, misinterpreting and misusing the Bible to fuel the conflict rather than promote justice and peace.

Fourth, there is a widespread belief among Christians that the conflict can be resolved in the face of prophets of doom who insist that the conflict can only be resolved by parting ways and minimizing violence. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has clearly expressed this conviction:

“The Church believes that a solution is possible. But it is not the task of the Church to point out the concrete details of the solution. The Church maintains that any legitimate solution must ensure the following:

    Justice for all people in the Holy Land today
    Equality for all citizens
    Freedom for all, including full religious freedom
    Mutual respect, ensuring that all find their place in society
    Respect for international law”

(The present conflict in the Holy Land, 1.9.2016).

In promoting this vision, Christians are political actors who strive to build broad coalitions by identifying partners with whom they share the same values and with whom they can engage in a struggle for justice, peace, equality and reconciliation in contemporary Israel-Palestine.

Undoubtedly, the presence of Christians in Israel and Palestine today is felt most strongly in the many schools where Christians and Muslims, and in some cases even Jews, are taught. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has emphasized this commitment on behalf of the Catholic bishops (Christmas Message 2015):

“We recommit ourselves to working with others, bringing new energy and creativity to promote life in an environment of death. We do this as individual disciples of Christ within our societies, holding that each person is stronger than the power of death that surrounds us. We recommit ourselves to our commitment on behalf of our churches: to our schools, our universities, our hospitals, our homes for the elderly, the disabled and the marginalized, our associations for the protection of life, human rights, conflict resolution and dialogue. These institutions are oases of life that are open to everyone. They already show a way in the darkness!”

               Translated from the English by Johannes Beutler SJ

    David Neuhaus SJ grew up as the son of German Jews in South Africa. He moved to Israel at the age of fifteen and was baptized into the Catholic Church. He is the regional superior of the Jesuits in the Holy Land and teaches biblical theology in Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Old white men and the church
By Stefan Kiechle
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/8-2019/alte-weisse-maenner-und-kirche/.]

A fighting term has recently been haunting social and other media: “old white men” or simply “AWM”. They are privileged because of their gender, skin color and age. AWM have better access to education and wealth. So they have more influence and power. Because they are successful, they dominate – because they are dominant, they are successful. AWM often get together in male alliances, they like to smile jovially to the outside world, know everything better, sometimes act misogynist or xenophobic and tend to be abusive. As a political buzzword, “AWM” comes from feminism and is directed against the male ruling class in society, politics and business – hardly against the church, which is probably too far removed for this scene.

Sophie Passmann wrote the bestseller on the subject (Alte weiße Männer. Ein Schlichtungsversuch. Köln 2019). The 25-year-old journalist met sixteen prominent AWMs over steak or tea and tested them for their AWM status. She writes wittily and in a chatty tone. What she reports in the book initially comes across as rather feminist and cheeky, but then also as zeitgeisty, larmoyant, ego-centered and not very analytical or critical. The real AWM don’t seem to be that bad after all. But the problem is there.

AWM are also prevalent in the church – just look at television images of bishops’ meetings. Structurally, access to these circles and their privileges is even more secure than anywhere else. You don’t see women in these groups, hardly any younger people or people of color. What could that mean?

The even more important problem, however, seems to me to be the alienation between old and young: 26-year-old Youtuber Rezo stirs up the European elections with a cheeky video – the politician class reacts distraught, helpless, panicked. Young people demonstrate for the climate on Fridays – even the Greens are surprised. In the church, women are fighting for structural changes at “Maria 2.0”, but they are mostly older women, supported by some older men; young Catholics are either leaving altogether, or they just want to celebrate their faith happily – they don’t seem to be interested in structural issues. The membership bases of political parties, trade unions and churches are over-aged: young people do not network through long-term binding membership in associations with fuss such as statutes and board elections, but through WhatsApp groups, social networks, life stage projects; they are less interested in sharing their lives with others in a community and more interested in connecting sectorally according to particular interests. When a statistic recently calculated that the membership figures of the two large churches in Germany will halve in forty years, the mostly older leaders began to lament and talk urgently about structural measures – but have they really understood what moves young people, what they are looking for and what they need? And that spirituality is booming after all, but more outside of established religion?

How can the church deal with the generation gap and the problem indicated by “AWM”? How can women, young people and migrants – all those who are not AWM – be welcomed in such a way that they are on an equal footing and that they are allowed to express and live their existing or newly growing faith in their culture – as Cardinal Hummes calls for in this issue for the indigenous inhabitants of Amazonia?

It will not help if the AWM in the church have to constantly justify their existence and their commitment – the author of these lines, who is 59 and an AWM, occasionally feels under pressure – or if they are generally suspected of being overbearing. Nor will it help if we frantically promote young and female managers and managers of color – and ignore the criterion of competence.

It could help if we AWM in the church – I include myself – admit our helplessness in all the upheavals, therefore keep quiet more often and voluntarily withdraw our dominance; if we take our competencies and apparatuses less seriously and listen to young and non-white people of both genders without blinkers. It will also help if the church values everyone in their respective competencies: the AWM for their often high level of education, also for their mature wisdom and for their dedication to life; the others for their youth and for their emotionality, for their spiritual cultures and for their other and equally high competencies. Conversely, it will also help if the church accompanies and corrects everyone in their shortcomings: the AWM in their well-known shortcomings, and everyone else in their emerging one-sidedness and mistakes – where do they not exist? The church will be the church of Jesus Christ when everyone in Christ has equal rights, equal opportunities and equal esteem: Women and men, old and young, black and white, natives and foreigners – below this standard it is not possible.

    Stefan Kiechle SJ, Dr. theol., born 1960, was a university pastor and novice master, city chaplain and provincial (head of Germany) of the Jesuits. He is currently editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine “Stimmen der Zeit” and commissioner for Ignatian spirituality.

“You can’t see them in the dark”: Organized ritual violence in Germany

There is research, publications and conferences on the subject, but the horrific effects of organized ritual violence are still a taboo subject in the public eye. Martina Rudolph, a specialist in psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy and head physician at the Klinik am Waldschlösschen, Dresden, outlines the problem and reports on her experience. The two subsequent articles in this issue delve deeper into the topic with reports from a woman affected by this violence and treated by Martina Rudolph, and from her pastor.
By Martina Rudolph
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/8-2019/die-im-dunkeln-sieht-man-nicht-organisierte-rituelle-gewalt-in-deutschland/.]

“For some are in the dark
and the others are in the light
and you see those in the light
those in the dark are not seen”

– Bertolt Brecht, Threepenny Opera

What is hidden behind this term: organized ritual violence? The following definition was proposed in the expert group recommendations for the Federal Ministry1: “In organized and ritual violence structures, the systematic use of severe sexualized violence (in connection with physical and psychological violence) against children, adolescents and adults is made possible by the cooperation of several perpetrators or perpetrator networks and is often linked to commercial sexual exploitation (forced prostitution, trafficking in children, child/violent pornography). If an ideology serves to justify the violence, this is referred to as a ritual structure of violence.”

Brigitte Hahn, head of the Ritual Violence Advisory Board of the Diocese of Münster, who is a member of this expert group, writes: “The reports of the dropouts suggest that there are numerous overlaps between the paedophile scene and (…) Satanist sects. A higher power is worshipped in the violent Satanist rituals, and a lot of money is made from pedophiles, sadists, drug and human traffickers”.

The existence of such organized offender structures is the subject of intense debate among experts,2 but there is also a strange silence surrounding the issue in the media, despite the fact that politicians3 occasionally take up the issue.

Fragmentation of personality

The splitting and fragmentation of the personality is the most frequent psychological consequence of severe and systematic violence. For many years, I have been treating inpatients and outpatients who originate from these structures and suffer from severe trauma-related disorders. The typical psychological disorder caused by this level of violence is dissociative identity disorder, which is described as follows in accordance with the DSM-5, an international diagnostic classification system:

“Criterion A: Disorder of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states. … Identity disorder involves a marked discontinuity in awareness of self and awareness of action, accompanied by associated changes in affect, behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking, and/or sensory-motor functioning. … Criterion B: Recurrent gaps in recollection of everyday events, important personal information and/or traumatic events that do not qualify as habitual forgetfulness.”

There has been a large wave of research and publications on this disorder in the professional world, but the diagnosis is still considered controversial. In the juxtaposition of evident research and political awareness and simultaneous denial and silence, the social ambivalence surrounding this highly controversial topic becomes clear; I would like to discuss the background to this.

Where do I get my information from? Essentially, I rely on reports from numerous patients. In my many years of working with severely traumatized women from all over Germany, I have repeatedly heard fragments of stories that have great similarities at their core. Due to the severe mental illness of those affected, initially only pieces of the puzzle could be experienced. In the flashbacks they suffered, situations of extreme physical, emotional and/or sexualized violence played out before my eyes.4 If I managed to calm them down in this state and show them that there was no danger at that moment, I often received information, sometimes in great detail, about the previously remembered events. During the flashbacks, I had been able to observe the situation like a movie, so to speak, in which there was only one actor, without seeing the stage set or the other participants. Once the affected part of the personality had been oriented, I learned more about the context of the traumatic memory.

With some of my patients, once they have gained confidence, individual personality parts – or “subpersonalities” or “inner persons” – report severe traumatic memory fragments that they are often initially unable to categorize. As part of the integration and trauma work that can and must take place in the course of trauma therapy, those affected can learn to piece together the fragments of knowledge of the individual parts so that they gradually develop a coherent memory, a narrative about the experience. Individual pieces of information that were previously only “packaged” in symptoms can thus be assigned their place in the story. In this way, the context of the experience and a temporal-spatial assignment can gradually be recognized. Only rarely, or only after a long period of work, do patients get so far in therapy that their biography can be opened up in such a way that the extent, chronological sequence and structural integration of the violence suffered can be recognized as a whole. However, even from the smaller excerpts of the trauma stories, patterns can be read that appear again and again. If the fragments or pieces of the puzzle are placed next to each other, an incomplete picture emerges, but one that outlines the structures in which the patients grew up, were abused and exploited.


Behind the deliberate division through torture and threats are the manifest interests of criminal organizations. As can be seen from the above definition, organized ritual violence involves two different structures that are closely linked and cooperate with each other. On the one hand, there are mafia-like networks that derive their commercial business from drug trafficking, prostitution and pornography, for example. On the other hand, there are sect-like groups that build their structures around an ideology and anchor it in inhuman dogmas, rituals and codes.

In the following, I venture statements about these structures. These are conjectures about how it is possible that so much of it remains hidden. According to the reports of those involved, the structures of both networks are as follows: They are organized strictly hierarchically in clear and categorical pyramids of power and are extremely interconnected. There appear to be lower-level members who make sure that grassroots affairs run smoothly. In the area of organized crime, for example, they are responsible for ensuring that the women concerned are in the right place at the right times to be available for clients. If this is not the case, they seek them out and use means of pressure, e.g. they specifically trigger individual personality traits in order to trigger conditioned behavior (so-called “programs”, see below) in them, or they intercept the victims in order to force renewed obedience under torture. Senior members of the structures ensure the necessary secrecy and are in the right places to distribute, cover up and conceal bribes. According to the reports of those affected, a wide variety of professional groups, including doctors, civil servants, police officers and technicians, appear to be involved.

Cult ideologies are all about organizing meetings and keeping the whole thing hidden. The highest-ranking, leading members provide the resources, recruit the wealthy clientele who make use of the “services” and give orders. In a ritual context, they are the ones who perform the rituals that are central to ideological indoctrination. They have a great deal of knowledge about torture methods and mind-control techniques, such as how people can be deliberately brought into near-death experiences, where they are then particularly receptive to suggestions and the development of new sub-personalities. According to the reports of those affected, these powerful people claim omnipotence and are the main masterminds in the systems. They are often in central positions in both networks.

“That sounds a lot like a conspiracy theory” is a common reaction I get when I mention the subject to acquaintances or friends. If I go a little further, the next reaction is often: “And why don’t people read about it? Why aren’t these things reported?” Can this massive form of violence and oppression exist in our world? It may be conceivable in war zones, dictatorships and unjust states, and we know that human rights are trampled underfoot there – but in our country?

Philipp Blom5 describes the history and development of our society as we know it today against the backdrop of the so-called Little Ice Age. In his summary, he describes how there have been two contradictory social currents since the 17th century: One current, from which the Enlightenment and later democracy emerged, is the liberal movement, which assumes that all people have the same basic rights and opportunities and should be free. The other, the authoritarian movement, differentiates between people in every respect; it attributes a natural right to individual groups of people to exploit and oppress other groups of people. According to his analysis, both currents still influence our society today. From a global perspective, we live in an open, free society in which everyone, including marginalized groups, can participate. At the same time, our lifestyle leads to the massive exploitation of other countries’ resources; this lifestyle also requires human sacrifice – in war zones, in areas that have become uninhabitable, in the Mediterranean. In my view, this division, the rift between the two currents, also exists in the middle of our society. The aforementioned groups are dominated by massive concepts of inequality that shape a strictly hierarchical power structure – in the midst of an open society with human rights, social security systems and free media.

Since the late 1990s, there has been an increasing number of publications on the subject of ritual violence. Experts who have professional contact with the topic, primarily psychotherapists and lawyers6 but also police officers, have been writing about it.7 There are also reports by victims, some of which have been written about,8 but also as part of the investigation by the German government’s independent commissioner for child sexual abuse issues, Mr. Rörig.9 The topic already exists in the public domain, but is only marginally acknowledged there.

The great silence of the public and the silence of those affected

What are the reasons for this silence and inaction against ritual violence? Here are some attempted answers:

1. the legal and official structures are not suited to reflect this type of injustice: “Ritual violence does not occur in the law because it is not provided for in law or in reality”, writes Rudolf von Bracken, lawyer for family law. A problem for those affected is the – basically very democratic – principle of in dubio pro reo (in case of doubt for the accused), in which every accusation is based on the so-called null hypothesis, according to which the burden of proof lies with the victim and their lawyers. This is a major problem due to the consequences that ritual violence has on those affected (see below), which is why a lawyer told me that a person with dissociative disorder simply does not meet the requirements for a legally viable statement due to the limitations associated with the disorder, which is why their statements cannot be used.

Secondly, raising children in Germany is traditionally the responsibility of the family, and this is traditionally protected in our society. This makes it very difficult for youth welfare offices and child and adolescent psychiatrists to separate a potentially affected child from its environment and experience it independently. Since a family that is permeated by violence will try to hide this from the public, the concealment measures in this regard always stand between the child and the potential helpers and their legal options. Statements such as “unfortunately, my daughter always lies to get attention” or the threat of punishment for the child could lead to either the parents’ word being set against the child’s or to things not being told by the child at all. In child and adolescent psychiatry, it is often still assumed that parents always want the best for their child. As a result, too little attention is paid to children and adolescents from a “violence or trauma perspective”. Even if a doctor had grounds for suspicion, they would not have the legal authority to carry out a vaginal or rectal examination without the parents’ consent.

Current examples such as the Staufen case, in which a nine-year-old boy was sold by his mother and her partner for abuse on the Darknet, or the Lügde case, in which children were abused for years on a campsite, forced to be abused and filmed for pornographic purposes, are also testimony to the failure of the authorities on many levels. Such things are not conceivable and not intended in society, so they do not exist – until obvious proof to the contrary, when it is already too late for many.

2. those affected are usually not in a position to make a complaint due to the consequences of the experience of violence. There are several reasons for this:

a. People who are exposed to severe, recurring violence from an early age, while this violence is simultaneously covered up in everyday life and to the outside world, typically compensate for these extreme experiences of pain, powerlessness, fear of death and betrayal with dissociation: they split off their experience and, so to speak, step out of the experience. At the moment of the trauma, they leave the body again and again when the experience becomes unbearable. This severely disrupts the classification of the experience, the memory of the event remains fragmented and cannot be stored in the normal long-term memory. Several personality parts emerge (see definition of dissociative identity disorder) that are unaware of each other. As the Dutch researcher Ellert Nijenhuis describes in his concept of structural dissociation in numerous publications and studies, one group of parts is geared towards functioning in everyday life, while another group is geared towards surviving in moments of extreme violence.10 There is therefore no uniform mental reference system against the background of which information can be processed and reproduced. Accordingly, some parts have memories of what they have experienced, while others deny them in order to ensure that they can function in everyday life. This can lead to those affected making contradictory statements to the outside world, which further reduces their credibility.

In addition, the affected person is often simply not up to reporting what they have experienced. When aspects of the experience of traumatized personality parts are activated, which inevitably happens when a statement is made, the panic system is activated at the same time. This is controlled by adrenaline and is accompanied by corresponding vegetative symptoms. Memories, but also bodily reactions or almost unbearable floods of emotions can massively influence the person’s experience at such a moment, so that the cognitive areas of the brain are no longer able to function. In the worst case, a flashback (see above) or a severe dissociative state occurs; in this case, any connection to the external situation is interrupted.

b. Many sufferers are still fixated in the structures of violence in adulthood. For example, while one part of the personality of a woman with dissociative identity disorder works during the day, another does the housework in the evening and yet another pursues hobbies, those parts of the personality that are programmed to survive the violence receive messages from perpetrators, others go to the agreed meeting places, others are responsible for providing sex services or taking part in cruel rituals. A well-organized network of perpetrators works together to track down those affected, intimidate them, threaten them and punish their “disobedience”. Accordingly, those affected are in real danger if they decide to resist. They report being tracked down again after changing their place of residence or name, being intercepted on their doorstep or being visited in hospitals. They often not only feel threatened themselves, but the danger also affects other people, such as their children.

It is not only external threats that are dangerous, but also mind control programs implemented at an early age, through which those affected react like puppets to certain triggers, process them as commands and carry out suicidal acts. Such triggers can be sequences of bells or horn tones or even symbols such as red roses or white lilies lying outside the front door.

c. Those affected often have a history of searching for help in vain. They have experienced that they were not believed, that they themselves were blamed, that helpers failed at the task or let them down. On this basis, it is a huge hurdle even for mentally stable people to go down such a painful and unpromising path again. Since there is a high risk of revictimization among victims of severe violence, there is also an alarming number of abuses by helpers.11 At the same time, helpers are faced with enormous challenges even with such seriously ill people, which can push them to the limits of their own resilience. As a result, helpers ignore signs of ongoing violence or only accompany those affected superficially in order to protect themselves from the force of the horror that the descriptions could trigger. This defensive attitude can also be seen as a healthy self-protection mechanism, but for those affected it can result in a fatal hopelessness.

d. External efforts to help are absent (see above). Society defends itself – as a collective self-protective reaction? – against contradictions in its understanding of itself and the world; or according to Christian Morgenstern: “Because what cannot be, must not be”. The lack of interest leads to a lack of relevance, which in turn means that hardly any resources are activated to improve the legal situation of those affected – who, as children, young people and mentally ill women, also have a weak lobby. The lack of information also applies to professionals: “You can still become a doctor, social worker or psychologist today without having dealt with these issues. “12 This will also have to do with the complexity of the problem: In a world that functions by regulating processes, orders, groupings to the maximum, simple schemes are needed to provide sufficient orientation.

Nevertheless, efforts are being made: psychotherapeutic and traumatological associations are addressing the topic at their congresses. The journalist Claudia Fischer is working on a website on which known cases and convictions of paedophile rings and cults are collected and published.13 The above-mentioned “Working Group on Ritual Violence”, set up by the diocese of Münster under the leadership of Brigitte Hahn, has made a particular name for itself.

Inhuman ideologies

Outside of specialist circles, only the epiphenomena of organized ritual violence are visible: child pornography, child prostitution, criminal activities on the darknet. The invisible core is about inhuman and dictatorial ideologies. The two levels of such structures are named here, as shown in the reports of those affected.

One level is the visible, tangible, comprehensible one: on the internet, it is easy to make sure that there is a big business in pornography that does not stop at children. You don’t even need any special knowledge of how to access the darknet, because porn videos with obvious minors are already flooding the surface of ordinary sex sites. The media are currently reporting on a child pornography platform on the Darknet that has been uncovered, on which images of sex with babies can also be seen.14 Another open secret is the organized crime surrounding drug trafficking and prostitution; this involves criminal structures that are globally networked and very well organized. There is no reason to assume that these structures are not also active in the heart of our society and do business there. What are these structures about? On the surface, it’s about power and money: motives that can be found everywhere in our capitalist society. However, the means to achieve this are illegal and therefore underground.

For financial gain, girls and later women are sold on the street or for pornographic pictures in their own homes, in houses set up especially for this purpose or in other locations. Children or young women in particular are sold or lent out in hotels, on the occasion of larger gatherings in political or economic contexts, at parties, business meetings, etc. They are at the service of the victims by having sexual or violent acts performed on them. Their presence and availability underlines the claims to power and the conspiracy of the groups that make use of them. In my opinion, one of the main aims of the perpetrators is to emphasize, consolidate and perpetuate their own position of power and their shared ideology by humiliating women – almost all of whom are women. To ensure that the children and women are compliant and “make their sexuality and submissiveness available” in the desired way, they are – according to what I have seen and heard in therapies – deliberately trained. They are subjected to training to show pleasure during sex and not to show pain or disgust. They are trained to “forget” places, names, contexts, to split them off in order to keep these things secret. And they are trained to perform certain acts of self-boycott should the impulse to break away from organized violence become overwhelming. This trained behavior, known as conditioning, can often be observed in therapy, for example when those affected take off their clothes, run away or self-harm in response to certain triggers as if remote-controlled. Conditioning is often linked to certain dates, as the affected person must be ready on these days – any other planning would inevitably result in severe conditioned reactions, including suicidal acts.

Boys and men are presumably trained in other areas, as they are supposed to be the future power holders of the system. Male patients report experiences of organized violence remarkably rarely. Men also suffer from trauma-related disorders such as PTSD or severe dissociative disorders. However, it is mainly those who have experienced this violence in a domestic, non-organized context who come to our therapies.

The less visible level concerns the ideological indoctrination of current and future victims and perpetrators, which ensures that the networks consolidate and spread further. This indoctrination interferes with the belief systems of those affected, as it is from there that people’s central motives and impulses to act are controlled. To ensure obedience and secrecy, it takes more than just threats or pressure, as there would be enough loopholes from which those affected could escape. The earlier this indoctrination begins, the more receptive the human mind is to targeted messages and beliefs and the more manipulable the reactions and actions of those affected are for those pulling the strings. Symbols and rituals tap into archaic fears in the initially childlike victims and can both tame and unleash them. Targeted torture and training methods then serve to condition certain desired reactions in the sense of binding them to the structures of secrecy and submission.

Inhuman ideologies are indoctrinated that are aimed at suppressing and devaluing, using and punishing all those who do not belong to the circle of the chosen ones. Those affected internalize the corresponding guiding principles, mantras and confessions. The aim is always to fully commit oneself to the inner commandments of the circle, i.e. to recognize violence and the pursuit of power as the highest values. Breaking away from this means having to change and redefine one’s entire view of the world.

According to reports from those affected, criminal networks make use of the potential to influence the human mind at this level: they form themselves into cults and sect-like associations that hold meetings with ritualized acts at certain magical times – ritual holidays based on pagan dates – and in certain places – also with cult objects such as candles, chalices, altars, etc. Satan is often invoked as the superpower to whom everything is dedicated. Christian symbols and texts are perverted and turned into their opposite; in some cases, church and church-like groups provide the “visible cover” for the underlying belief systems and groups.

As indicated, these cults do not exist separately from mafia structures, they do not form distinct groups, but appear to be intimately intertwined with their everyday criminal activities. Those affected often remember hearing the voice of the person who took them to business meetings in order to sell them to colleagues in the cult behind the sheep’s head or the mask. Conversely, subsequent attempts to escape the structures and no longer be picked up for prostitution work, for example, often activate the above-mentioned conditioning or programs that are rooted in deeply implemented cultic beliefs. For example, one patient fell into a childlike state when she tried to resist the instructions given over the phone; in this state she was convinced that she had the devil’s eye in her stomach, which was watching her at all times and controlling her disobedience, which in turn activated self-punishment impulses.

Merciless self-preservation of organized networks

Organized networks are highly geared towards self-preservation. There were phases in which these structures in Germany operated more on the surface and were at least partially legitimized there. In National Socialism, there was an ideology in whose climate Mengele, for example, carried out his experiments on people under the guise of science; in the GDR, there was a secret service, the Stasi, which deliberately manipulated and tortured people. With the disappearance of such unjust regimes, the people involved do not disappear, nor do their methods or beliefs; rather, they retreat back underground. Patients describe how their perpetrators – their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, teachers – had a Nazi past and still use fascist insignia and fascist language today. Patients also report Germanic-fascist symbolism and attitudes in various cults. Other patients report traumatization in the GDR, where they were victims of human experimentation in connection with doping, but were also trained for espionage purposes, for example to take over messenger services in split-off, dissociated states. Targeted torture methods were used for training, also to ensure that those affected could not know anything about their employers during interrogation.

Organized, ritual violence is particularly cruel in the way it propagates itself. The mothers of our patients are usually traumatized and divided themselves. There are very different memories about them: those in which they behave lovingly and empathetically; those in which they prepare their daughters for the upcoming rapes; those in which the mothers themselves were victims of violence; those in which they deny that there was ever violence by others.15 These are different faces of the mothers, who also have different, split-off personality parts or inner persons that become active in different situations. As a rule, these mothers also have an external face: that of an everyday personality with which they go to work, for example, or are out and about in public spaces. There are two main faces reported by fathers: the public, often successful one with sometimes high social status – and the face of the perpetrator.

Many of those affected report having been forced to commit acts of violence against others from an early age. Under targeted torture and manipulation, parts emerge that are so identified with the perpetrators that they believe they did this of their own free will and report this in therapy. During further therapeutic work, it then becomes clear in the trauma synthesis that near-death experiences often preceded the act; for example, we see patients who stop breathing after massive memories of pain, become cyanotic [turn blue due to lack of oxygen] and are unconscious for a few moments before they are stuck in the next memory, in which a specific instruction to act from the perpetrator’s side virtually produces the new part that then carries out the act.

Now children are also conceived and born in the dark side of the structures that is turned away from the public. Some of these children are horribly killed directly in ritual acts, according to the memories of those affected. Others are taken from the biological mother and given to other structures; encounters only occur in a ritual context in order to further bind the person concerned to the organization. Still others remain with their parents and are brought up as successors in the system.

This means that many of those affected are victims and perpetrators at the same time, which strengthens their ties to the organized networks. Only through years of therapy can those affected learn to take responsibility for themselves, gain control over their behaviour, turn away, no longer perform the tasks assigned to them by the organized violence and escape the clutches of the spiral of violence.

There are victims who manage to escape, like my former patient who is featured in this booklet. She is no longer exposed to violence. She still experiences threats, sometimes she is ambushed on the street or receives phone calls with signals, but she has learned to interrupt conditioned reactions and get to safety.

She has made it because she is a very strong and courageous person, because she is well positioned professionally and has a regular income and because she is recognized in what she does. She has made it because she has social contacts and people who are good for her, and because she has found the right therapy for her. And she made it because she found a spiritual companion in the darkest of times who was able to help her find new trust and hope in her search for life and meaning through faith. It is our common concern to raise awareness of this widespread phenomenon, which is forming its cruel structures before our very eyes, which is constantly giving birth to new victims and perpetrators and which presents society as a whole with a common task.

    1 Expert group “Sexualized Violence in Organized and Ritual Violence Structures” at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth: Sexualized Violence in Organized and Ritual Violence Structures. Strengthening prevention, intervention and help for those affected. Recommendations for politics and society. Expertise. Berlin: BMBFSJ 2018. Available at: ‘https://www.bundeskoordinierung.de/kontext/controllers/document.php/155.b/a/be8025.pdf’.
    2 Thematic issue “Organized and ritual violence” in the organ of the German-speaking Society for Psychotraumatology and the Society for Psychotraumatology, Trauma Therapy and Violence Research “Trauma and Violence”. Vol. 13, Issue 2.
    3 First defined in 1998 by the Enquete Commission “Sogenannte Sekten und Psychogruppen”; cf. final report BT-Drs. 13/10950, 1998.
    4 Flashbacks are severe states of arousal in which traumatized people are flooded with their traumatic memories as if the trauma were happening right now, and then behave accordingly by trying to run away in escape mode or by making defensive or attacking movements in defence mode.
    5 See Philipp Blom: The world off its hinges. Munich 2017.
    6 Cf. Igney Fliß (ed.): Handbuch rituelle Gewalt. Lengerich 2010.
    7 Cf. Paulus Gallwitz: Grünkram. The child sex mafia in Germany. Hilden 1998.
    8 Cf. Ulla Fröhling: Our Father in Hell. Bergisch-Gladbach 2008.
    9 ‘https://www.aufarbeitungskommission.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Blianzbericht_Band-I.pdf’.
    10 Cf. Ellert Nijenhuis: The trauma trinity. Göttingen 2018.
    11 To take this fact into account, the leading professional societies in the field of psychotraumatology are currently setting up ethics committees. The independent ethics association advises victims who have been abused again in therapeutic, medical or counseling contexts.
    12 Claudia Igney, in: “Organized and ritual violence” (Note 2), 104-113.
    13 ‘www.infoportal-rg.de’.
    14 ‘www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/elysium-prozess-urteil-haftstrafen-1.4358410’.
    15 See also: “There were many men – and the mothers”, in: Chrismon 3/2019.

    Martina Rudolph (*1969) is a specialist in psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy. She works as a senior physician at the Waldschlösschen Clinic in Dresden and specializes in trauma therapy and dissociative disorders, among other things.

On the way to the Synod on Amazonia: Interview with Cardinal Cláudio Hummes OFM

In preparation for the Amazon Synod in October 2019, Cardinal Hummes gave an interview to the Roman cultural magazine “La Civiltà Cattolica”. Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor-in-chief of “Civiltà”, conducted the interview. It is reproduced with kind permission, slightly abridged and translated from the Italian by Johannes Beutler SJ.
By Antonio Spadaro
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/8-2019/unterwegs-zur-synode-ueber-amazonien-interview-mit-kardinal-claudio-hummes-ofm/.]

On 15 October 2017, Pope Francis convened a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian region in Rome with the aim of “finding new ways to evangelize this part of God’s people, especially the indigenous people, who are often forgotten and remain without prospects for a prosperous future, also due to the crisis of the Amazon forest, lungs of fundamental importance for our planet”. The preparatory document was published on June 8, 2018.1

The Synod on the Amazon is a major ecclesial project that aims to transcend previous boundaries and redefine the pastoral guidelines and adapt them to the present. The Pan-Amazon region is made up of regions in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. It is an important source of oxygen for the entire planet, as it contains more than a third of the world’s forest reserves and is an area of enormous biodiversity.

All the bishops of the Amazon region and other selected bishops from around the world are taking part in the Synod. The Pope has appointed the Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes OFM, Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo, as the Synod’s rapporteur. Another person of great importance is the Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto SJ, Archbishop of Huancayo. These are the chairman and vice-chairman of the “Rete Ecclesiale Panamazzonica” (Repam). This international network strives for cooperation between different parts of the church: Dioceses, religious congregations, Caritas, various Catholic associations, foundations and groups of lay people. Among its main tasks is the defense of Amazonian communities threatened by pollution, by the radical and rapid transformation of the ecosystem on which they depend and by the lack of respect for fundamental human rights.

Cardinal, we are approaching the Synod on the Amazon, a great ecclesial event that places at the center of reflection a particular and special region of the world, vast, but also of incredible richness and at the same time great complexity. For this reason, some fear that the upcoming Synod could have an impact on the unity of the Church. What do you think about this?

There is a lot of talk today about the unity of the Church. It is of the utmost importance. But it must be understood as a unity that includes diversity, following the example of the Holy Trinity. Unity must never destroy diversity. The Synod places concrete emphasis on diversity within that great unity. Diversity is the richness of unity, and it protects it from turning into uniformity. Today, more than ever, the Church has opened itself to diversity. The countries of Panama are an expression of Latin American diversity, which should be welcomed without resentment and with great openness by the Church in Europe and the rest of the world. I dare say that the Synod on Amazonia is a recognition of our uniqueness. I see it this way: the Church of Latin America can shed new light on the European and universal Church, just as the Church of Europe should shed old and still important light on us.

Christianity originally found a place of inculturation in European culture, with a successful process that continues to the present day. But this single inculturation is not enough. The Pope argues that a single culture cannot exhaust the richness of the Gospel. The Church does not want to rule over other cultures, with all due respect for the original inculturation in Europe.

We must appreciate the diversity of cultures: For the Church, they represent an enrichment, not a threat. Diversity does not threaten the unity of the Church, but strengthens it. It is very important not to be afraid of these things. So it will be to the advantage of the whole Church if we talk to each other and try together to find new ways for the Church in Amazonia. But always with the starting point of specific reflection on Amazonia.

The “Rete Ecclesiale Amazzonica” had a meeting with Pope Francis Can you tell us something about this meeting and about the challenges and hopes that the Holy Father associates with the synodal process?

On February 25, Cardinal Pedro Barreto, Mauricio López, Secretary General of Repam, and I met with the Pope. We informed him about the preparation of the synod, after the hearing and consultation with the individual churches of Panama, and about all the work done so far. In this synodal process, our network has seriously tried to listen, and not just to “see, judge and act”. Listening is at the beginning of everything. To prepare a synod, you have to listen, not just organize and develop plans.

The Synod wants to overcome the mentality of predetermined frameworks and plans?

To really see, you have to listen: Analyzing what Amazonia is, the identity of the Church in Amazonia and what it does is not enough. The Synod is not a synodal abstraction, not a general idea. Above all, we must listen to the peoples of Amazonia. We must hear the reality, hear the cries. This effort has methodically enriched our vision, judgment and action. We asked the Pope what he would recommend. He replied that the most important thing was not to dilute the specific concern of the Synod. It must not lead to discussing everything and anything, and it does not have the task of dealing with every goal, every challenge and every need of the Church. It is obvious that its course will also have universal implications, but the Synod has an objective that does not allow it to stop at generalities. Pope Francis is very clear on this point: “Do not lose sight of the goal.” This goal is Amazonia. “New paths for the Church” means: new paths for the Church in Amazonia and new paths for an integral ecology in Amazonia.

Francis often talks about new processes, about staying on the move and not repeating the past, but following the tradition that grows and allows growth without always repeating the same things. Will you be able to do this? Is it possible?

We are certainly not going to the Synod to repeat what has already been said, however important, beautiful and theologically profound it may be. The Synod serves to point out new paths where they prove necessary. We urgently need something new, without fear or resistance. Old and new must unite, the new must strengthen the path and encourage it. The Pope’s words are powerful: we must set out and move forward without offering resistance. Pope Francis told us to trust the spirit that allows us to move forward. Since the beginning of his pontificate, he has exhorted and encouraged the Church to move forward and not to be too immobile and sure of its theology, its view of things, in an attitude of defense. The past is not fossilized, it must always remain part of history, a tradition that moves towards the future. Each generation must remain on the move and move forward in order to contribute to the richness of this great tradition. Will we be able to do this? We will entrust ourselves to the work of the Spirit.

The past is also defined by a colonial legacy.

Certainly. The colonial attitude was also an important reservation of the indigenous peoples towards some Pentecostal communities that have invaded and are still invading their territory. The Pope condemns any form of neo-colonialism and exhorts the Church not to implement its spirit and practice in its evangelizing mission. The Pope calls on the Church not to colonize indigenous peoples in their faith and spirituality.

How does the Church present itself to the indigenous peoples? How should the evangelization of these peoples take place?

The inculturation of faith and also interreligious dialog are necessary because of the undoubted fact that God has always been present in the untouched indigenous peoples, in their specific forms and manifestations and in their history. They have their own experience of God, just like other peoples of the world, especially those of the Old Testament. They all had a history in which God was present, a beautiful experience of divinity, transcendence and a spirituality that resulted from it. We Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the true salvation and the final revelation to enlighten all people. The evangelization of indigenous peoples should aim to form an indigenous church for indigenous communities in which they can express their faith through their culture and identity, their history and spirituality.

What resistance does this view of the indigenous church encounter in the preparations for the synod?

This view leads to misunderstandings and resistance. Some feel threatened because they think that their projects and their ideologies are not sufficiently taken into account, especially the projects of colonization of the Amazon, which are still today determined by a spirit of domination and exploitation: People come to exploit and leave with their suitcases full, humiliating the local population and leaving them in poverty. The people are impoverished and find themselves on a devastated and polluted homeland. Industry, agriculture and other forms of production are increasingly claiming that their activities are “sustainable”. This would mean that everything we take from the soil or return to it as residue does not prevent the earth from regenerating and remaining fertile and healthy. It is very important to take note of these resistances, both in the church and outside it, for example in governments, businesses and so on. We must learn to decide how to behave in the face of resistance and what to do.

Why this resistance? Where do they come from?

Economic interests and the technocratic paradigm oppose any attempt at change and tend to impose themselves by force, violating the fundamental rights of peoples and the norms for the sustainability and protection of the Amazon. But we must not surrender. We must show unwillingness, not violently, but in a decisive and prophetic way.

Will a dialog, an encounter be possible?

We should not give in to the naïve idea that everyone is ready for dialog. Many are not ready. We must first show our displeasure and speak prophetically, but then we must negotiate and agree, and in this way we may be able to get the other side to enter into dialog. Jesus himself invited us to negotiate in such situations when he said: “If one of you wants to build a tower, does he not first sit down and calculate the cost, whether his resources are sufficient for the whole project?” (Luke 14:28). The church in Amazonia knows well that it must be prophetic, not permissive, because the situation is dramatic: human rights are constantly being violated and the common home is falling into disrepair. Worse still, the crimes mostly go unpunished.

The Latin American church has practiced being prophetic for decades. Prophecy does not just mean shouting, accusing and pointing the finger at others, but more: we enrich the spirit of accusation and dialog with tenderness. How do we achieve this? Prophecy must seek new ways to help shine lights on others and engage in dialog. I believe that conversation enables us to listen and make us ready to receive the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Someone sees inculturation, that is, immersion in a particular culture, and interculturality, that is, dialog between cultures, as opposites: omnipresent themes in the efforts of a Church that seeks contact with the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. What do you think of this, and how can this topic be creatively introduced into the synodal process?

Inculturation and interculturality are not opposites, but belong together. Inculturation is absolutely necessary, and so is interculturality, especially since there are so many and diverse cultures in Amazonia – and all over the world.

We must distinguish between an “indigenist” and an “indigenous” church. Today, especially after the major bishops’ conferences of the Latin American episcopate, we are seeking to be an “indigenist” church that sees indigenous people as the object of pastoral care, but not yet as the protagonists of their own faith experience. That is not enough: the goal remains an indigenous church.

As far as I understand it, the Brazilian “Consiglio indigenista missionario” (Cimi) is doing a good job.

The Cimi is certainly a shining example and does excellent work: it provides data and facts about indigenous life, and it brings the use of violence into the public eye. The facts can be interpreted well or badly, but they cannot be denied: injustice happens, human rights are violated, indigenous people are murdered, the defenders of their rights are criminalized. The Cimi pursues this task with constant vigilance. This irritates some governments and all those who pursue other interests

In this case, the indigenist church is acting in a way that is becoming uncomfortable. But it is important for us as a church to be able to show with facts and figures why we are upset. The Cimi has helped us in Brazil to be an indigenist church that defends the rights of indigenous people, such as the ribeirinhos, the river people, and all peoples, especially in the mission areas.

What step must an “indigenous” church take?

We now know that another step is necessary: we must promote and grow an indigenous church for the indigenous peoples. The congregations of indigenous people who hear and accept the Gospel in this or that way, that is, accept Jesus Christ, must be put in a position where their faith can take shape in their traditional reality and find its cultural expression through an appropriate process. Then, in the context of their culture and identity, their history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can emerge with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always in unity with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in the indigenous cultures.

There are numerous traces of God in the history of the indigenous peoples. God has always been present in their history. They can see clear signs of God’s presence in their identity and culture. These millennia-old peoples come from a different root than those of Europe, Africa, India or China. We must create a Church with an indigenous face in the midst of their identity and spirituality and based on their relationship with transcendence.

What kind of ecclesial service is necessary for this reality of the Church of Panama? What profiles of priests, missionaries and so on are necessary in this cultural situation?

We often try to transfer the models of European priests to indigenous priests. Of course, it has been rightly noted that too much importance and priority is given to the profile of the ordained minister and not to the community that is to receive him. It must be the other way around: The congregation is not there for its minister, but the minister for his congregation. He must meet the needs of the congregation.

This need of the congregation must lead us to think of differentiated ministries, based on the fact that a particular congregation in a particular place requires a specific presence. Let us not try to defend a historical figure to which a minister must adhere without possible changes, so that the congregations must accept and keep him because he was sent that way. Yes, the ministers are sent, but the way they are sent must take account of this specific congregation, which has its own specific needs. The ministries must also be based on the congregation: on its culture, its history and its needs. This is precisely the opening.

The indigenous church is not created by decree. The synod must allow a process that has the necessary freedom and takes into account the dignity of each Christian and each child of God. Therein lies the greatness of this synod. The Pope knows the historical importance it can have for the whole Church. But the path to be followed calls on us to be careful not to reproduce and repeat what already exists.

In the encyclical Laudato si’, the Pope clearly states that the situation of planetary crisis cannot be denied. And he adds this topic to the future synod with the call for an “integral ecology”. How should the Church act in this situation of serious environmental crisis?

Integral ecology is a wonderfully new reality with which the Pope confronts us. It fundamentally challenges the current models of development and production, which are themselves based on the rational, scientific and technical premises of modern times, on which the technocratic paradigm of modern times is based, and which are unwilling to recognize the implications of integral ecology. The technocratic and dominant paradigm asserts itself, imposes itself and does what it wants. The scheme ultimately originates from modernity. It is the result of the so-called “Copernican revolution” in modern philosophy: it is no longer the object that is considered and analyzed, as in classical philosophy, but the thinking subject, the subjectivity. This was a remarkable step forward, the great wealth of modernity.

However, numerous interests have changed this conquest: They transformed it into subjectivism, into individualism and then into liberalism, which led beyond the Copernican turn in philosophy to the birth of modern exact science and its application in technology. From here, an enormous, ever-increasing technical progress has emerged, which has given man an unusual ability to intervene in nature. It has allowed man to produce more and more goods, at any price, at the expense of both nature and human communities. This ever-expanding technology is being used to exploit the planet. It is used as if we came from somewhere else, from outside, and the planet was something we had found along the way and which we could unscrupulously exploit, diminish in value and exploit. Technology enables humans to accumulate more and more material goods. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, do not accumulate material goods, but social relationships, with fellow human beings and with the universe. They teach us that communitarian relationships are much more important.

This technocratic model you are talking about weighs heavily on our planet.

It does so because it does not accept an integral ecology and does not want to know that we are children of this earth; if we harm it, we ultimately harm ourselves. According to the Bible, man was created by God from the clay of this earth. We spring from the earth, it is the “mother earth”, we are children of the earth. We are born here, we do not come from outside. Our body is formed from components of this earth. God has breathed into this body the spirit, the breath of life, which comes from the earth. Since we come from the earth, we are brothers and sisters of all creatures. And the Pope says that we humans, insofar as we are endowed with intellect and free will, have a special task: We are to take care of the whole earth, because God has given us the mind and the capacity to love and has charged us to care and to be good stewards of the earth that sustains us. But we cannot appropriate this sustenance at the expense of other created beings and our other brothers and sisters. Everything is interconnected.

Does integral ecology have a theological foundation? Is there a theological view that has matured in you?

Pope Francis has spoken of this. According to him, the most important dimension of integral ecology is that God has entered into a definitive relationship with this earth in Jesus Christ. Since God is in relationship, everything is connected. God himself has bound himself through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the destination point to which we are all heading. There are wonderful texts that speak of him being the goal to which all creatures are on their way, because they are not there for our sake. Their ultimate goal is transcendent, it is God. Sure, we need creatures to keep us alive, but their vocation is transcendent, and we must praise the Lord on their behalf and lead them to God. Indeed, one day they will all mysteriously participate in the final kingdom because of the resurrection. God will not destroy his creation, but will transform it paschally.

The resurrected Jesus Christ is the summit to which we are traveling and the model that provides a first revelation of how our journey will unfold. Humanity does not move in circles, without direction, without meaning. We must wander. There is a real future. The risen Jesus Christ is the great transcendent point to which we are traveling. So integral ecology includes all this. Christology should be rewritten: the apostle Paul already writes about this goal of a progressive path. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ spoke of this in his studies on evolution. All theology and Christology, even sacramental theology, must be re-read in the light of this great light, according to which everything is “interconnected”.

There is a Brazilian song that says: “Tudo está interligado, como se fóssemos um, tudo está interligado nesta casa comum” (“Everything is connected, as if we were one, everything is connected in this common house”). God himself is definitively in relationship with our common home. I believe that the concept of integral ecology illuminates all the work we have to do in Amazonia in order to experience unity on the path of the Synod.

The “Rete Ecclesiale Panamazzonica” is taking part in the process of preparing the Synod. Where does it come from?

The network goes back to the idea of the Fifth Latin American Bishops’ Conference in Aparecida, in which Pope Benedict XVI also took part and surprised us with a most remarkable contribution: he opened himself up to a world that was not his own. Although he belonged to a European world, he entered into dialog with us, with the people, the country, Latin America.

What happened in Aparecida? Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio SJ was also there, as we know.

Yes, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires also took part. At that time, there was talk of the need to draw up a pastoral plan for the Amazon region, and Pope Francis remembers today that it was there that he became aware of the challenge posed by the Amazon region. At first, for him as Archbishop and citizen of Buenos Aires, Amazonia was a distant reality, like a ghost world. The Brazilian bishops’ emphasis on the issues of Amazonia aroused his interest in Aparecida and he understood that it was an important issue.

The talk of a pastoral plan for Amazonia was somewhat out of the ordinary at the time, because the bishops’ conferences are national, whereas Amazonia is a cross-border region that encompasses nine countries. Initially, the national bishops’ conferences concerned incorporated what related to Amazonia into the national pastoral plans. Now, after Aparecida and especially after the announcement of the Synod for Amazonia, it is necessary to think of a specific pastoral plan for Panamazonia. However, this does not release the bishops’ conferences concerned from their responsibility for their Amazonian territory. A new situation is thus emerging, a kind of new ecclesial subject, which must be understood and gradually appropriated. The Pope is talking about decentralization, and every decentralization is somehow painful, because it somewhat curtails the power and prestige of the center.

The Repam is currently working to create a network between the different realities of the nine Amazonian countries; a network that should not be seen as another entity with its own projects, but as a service with the aim of bringing all entities to bear: the communities, the missionaries, the church officials in the area concerned and the initiatives for the preservation of Amazonia. Everyone should enter into this network and not feel isolated, lost in the jungle. It is a service that will depend on the bishops and local missionaries, who should feel included in this network.

And the Pope? When did he speak to you about the Synod?

Back in 2015, the Pope said to me: “I am thinking of holding a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. I don’t know yet what kind of meeting or assembly, but I think it could also be a synod.” He told me: “Let’s pray together”, and he started talking to bishops from the Amazonian countries about how such an assembly could be held, and so the idea of the synod matured in him until it was convened in 2017. We have worked hard for the Synod and we will continue to do so in this ministry that is so important for the future of the Church. The Synod serves to find and design new paths for the church.

The interview originally appeared in: La Civiltà Cattolica 4054. vol. II, 343-356.

    Antonio Spadaro, born 1966, Italian Jesuit, theologian and author, editor-in-chief of the magazine “La Civiltà Cattolica”.

75 years after July 20, 1944
By Klaus Mertes
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/7-2019/75-jahre-nach-dem-20-juli-1944/.]

“Stauffenberg did not act out of conscience, but out of political and military considerations” – says historian Thomas Karlauf in a new biography of Stauffenberg. The juxtaposition of reasons of conscience and political-military considerations is surprising and disconcerting. Karlauf attributes the fact that the two motives came together again to chance: “In the situation of the summer of 1944, it also happened to be the morally right thing to do. Stauffenberg did the morally right thing, but not out of moral considerations.” It was only in retrospect that an inner context was constructed from the coincidence, one that met “the needs of the young Federal Republic for moral legitimacy”.

Karlauf’s aim is to counter the “false heroization” of Stauffenberg from the right. He calls on the German government to set an example in the anniversary year; presumably it should join Karlauf’s deconstruction of an alleged “uprising of conscience” – that would then be the upcoming cultural-political signal against the right. Well, it’s true: the new right is appropriating the resistance against Hitler: waving the Wirmer flag; putting up posters of Sophie Scholl as a “Dignity Today AfD” voter; placing portraits of Stauffenberg on the desks of new right-wing noblemen. And so on. But the right does not understand resistance to the Nazi dictatorship with reference to a general concept of conscience, but rather under the premise of a national ethic: “What is ethically wrong is what harms the German people.” In this way, she can put Hitler on the same level as Merkel and equate her own “resistance” to the German government’s refugee policy with resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. However, it is not at all clear to me why this appropriation is countered by denying Stauffenberg, one of the key figures of the resistance, reasons of conscience for the act of July 20, 1944. Rather, it seems to me like a capitulation: because Stauffenberg is being appropriated by the right, we prefer to drop him like a hot potato.

Now, there are always points of connection with appropriation. Karlauf insinuates that Stauffenberg was permanently close to the nationalist-folkish ideas of the George circle, to which Stauffenberg belonged at times: a closeness that – according to Karlauf – was also decisive for the decision to assassinate Hitler. In fact, it was rather the other way around. After 1945, Stauffenberg’s deed was appropriated by the remaining networks from the George circle. These networks developed their impact on the condition of distancing themselves from pre-war history, for which they invoked Stauffenberg’s deed. Ulrich Raulff has described these connections in detail (cf. Kreis ohne Meister. Munich 2009), incidentally unintentionally just in time for the revelation of sexual abuse in reformist educational institutions in 2010, whose pedagogy was characterized by the erotic-ephebophilic understanding of the teacher-student relationship as celebrated in the George circle. Karlauf himself, if one can believe the reporting, comes from the world of thought of the George circle, from which he has distanced himself. Nevertheless, he remains caught up in it when he now continues the story of George’s impact under different auspices with his biography of Stauffenberg.

In his planned radio address, Stauffenberg wrote: “We had to act out of the obligation of conscience.” Can only those in history who share exactly the socio-political ideas that are standard in the present be considered to have a conscience? Stauffenberg did not and does not only stand for himself. He cannot be understood without his co-conspirators, without his contacts to the Kreisau Circle, without his Catholicism, without his closeness to Cardinal Preysing, without his ties to his family and his Swabian homeland. Karlauf’s deconstruction of Stauffenberg seems to me like the reverse side of the disappointed Georgian-Federal Republican heroization. In any case, it is unsuitable for the fight against heroization from the right. It would be better to take a look at another recent publication: The life story of Paulus van Husen (1891-1971) (Als der Wagen kam. Eine wahre Geschichte aus dem Widerstand. Freiburg 2019), edited by his great-nephew Manfred Lütz. Here, a co-conspirator testifies at close quarters to what made July 20, 1944 so special: “Stauffenberg would not have taken action if he had not known that other responsible people whom he trusted saw his actions as imperative, and if he had not been convinced on the basis of the Kreisau plans he knew […] that a way had been shown to bring the German people back to glory.”

    Klaus Mertes

    Superior of the Ignatius House in Berlin, editor of the cultural magazine STIMMEN DER ZEIT, studied classical philology and Slavic studies in Bonn and, after joining the Jesuit order, philosophy in Munich and theology in Frankfurt. He has worked as a teacher since 1990, first in Hamburg from 1990-1993 and then at Canisius College in Berlin from 1994-2011, where he was rector from 2000. From 2011 to 2020, he was Director of the International Jesuit College in Sankt Blasien.

The National Socialist Underground: One year after the NSU trial. Critical questions for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution

Has the long NSU trial succeeded in clearing up the complex in such a way that the victims and their relatives could really receive justice? Some massive questions were already raised during the trial and have not been silenced to this day. For the sake of the victims, we are publishing this critical article. Hajo Funke is Professor of Political Science at the FU Berlin; in connection with the NSU, he worked as an expert witness in six parliamentary committees of inquiry and at the BKA. Björn Mrosko SJ is spiritual director of the KSJ Hamburg; in the Archdiocese of Hamburg and in the Jesuit Order he is responsible for various tasks in the field of child protection and prevention.
By Hajo Funke, Björn Mrosko
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet,

On July 11, 2018, the 6th Criminal Senate of the Munich Higher Regional Court handed down the verdicts in the NSU trial against Beate Zschäpe for membership of a terrorist organization and complicity in the NSU’s crimes, as well as against the four co-defendants for supporting and aiding and abetting. In the period between the disappearance of Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt in January 1998 and their unmasking on November 4, 2011, the NSU (“National Socialist Underground”) committed nine murders of people with a migration background, the murder of policewoman Michèle Kiesewetter, fifteen robberies, two bomb attacks and 43 attempted murders.

Even during the trial, those affected complained that the promise made by the Federal Chancellor in 2012 to do everything possible “to solve the murders and uncover the accomplices and those behind them and to bring all perpetrators to justice “1 was not being kept. In the final plea of the joint plaintiff, Yavuz Narin, lawyer for the relatives of murder victim Theodoros Boulgarides, stated:

“Today we have the certainty that it would have been possible to prevent the NSU’s deeds. We have the certainty that we and this court have been lied to by the constitution protection authorities to this day. We have the certainty that numerous V-Persons and employees of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution are still being protected from prosecution today. […] Which interest in secrecy deserves priority over the protection of the lives and dignity of those subject to the law? “2

Important questions to which many trial participants had hoped for answers have still not been clarified:

How could the NSU come into being, who were the helpers and supporters and what role did V-Persons of the security authorities play?

How and by whom were the murder victims selected and crime scenes spied on? Why these family fathers in particular? Who knew about the crimes beforehand?

Apart from the three people in hiding, were there other people who could be described as members of the NSU?

Why was the extensive network of supporters not consistently investigated, but instead steadfastly adhered to the theory of the “NSU trio”?3

What did the security authorities know about the activities of those in hiding?

Could crimes have been prevented by early access?

Why were files on V-Persons illegally destroyed? What is being covered up? Why is so much lying going on?

After the trial, those affected now have to live with the fact that accomplices and supporters of the NSU – including a considerable number of V-Persons – are at large and those responsible for the involvement of the security authorities in the NSU complex will not be held accountable. The applause with which well-known neo-Nazis – such as the right-wing terrorist Statzberger – celebrated the unexpectedly lenient verdict against co-defendant Eminger in the stands of the courtroom in the final minutes of the trial was almost symbolic of the failed investigation.

V-persons in the NSU environment

The blockade of a full investigation into the NSU murder series leads – in addition to all the weaknesses of the investigating authorities – to the black box of the domestic secret service and its seemingly untouchable V-persons, who open up behind almost every black hole encountered in the NSU complex. According to various estimates, up to 40 V-Persons from various security agencies were active in the NSU environment. Some of them came from the leadership cadre of the international “Blood & Honour” network, which was banned in Germany, with its armed arm, the “Combat 18” – the model for the NSU.

Investigation attempts – not only in the case of the NSU4 – have shown that the use of undercover agents and their absolute secrecy as required prevent democratic and constitutional instruments from coming into play and crimes from being solved. Just how aggressively the investigation of the NSU was blocked by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is shown, for example, by the so-called “Operation Confetti” of November 11, 2011 at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne. A few days after the NSU was unmasked, relevant files on the V-Personen operation were destroyed in “Operation Rennsteig”, the central operation for recording NSU activities. Although the head of the department responsible for the shredding operation had already admitted to the Federal Public Prosecutor General’s Office in 2014 that the files had been illegally destroyed, this statement was withheld and only made public in the fall of 2016.5

and the uncontrolled protection of the constitution – three examples

(1) A particularly negative case of how Thuringian security authorities deal with informants is that of the neo-Nazi and perpetrator of abuse Tino Brandt – former star and agitator (“deeds not words”) of the scene. Brandt had at least 35 charges for serious crimes and propaganda offences before his exposure, which was presumably organized from internal circles, without a single conviction.6 As a neo-Nazi installed by the Bavarian undercover agent Kai D., he was already active as a young man in the unleashing of the right-wing extremist violence scenes in Thuringia before he was made an undercover agent by the local Office for the Protection of the Constitution in 1994. At that time, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution assumed that it would be able to control and steer the radicalizing and increasingly violent right-wing scene with undercover agents, but ultimately helped to strengthen it by transferring money into the scene and infrastructure via undercover agents. Undercover agent Tino Brandt built up the Thuringian Home Guard (THS) into the most important and most violent neo-Nazi formation in Germany with 200,000 DM from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution at the end of the 1990s.7 The NSU emerged directly from the THS. Provided with absolute source protection by the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution Nocken, Brandt was warned of police raids by his V-man leaders, public prosecutors were put under pressure and police units specializing in right-wing extremism (SOKO Rex) were broken up. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution paid him a lawyer at least once. The THS and the later NSU members were able to radicalize themselves without control and escalate into terror.

The de facto protection of Tino Brandt extended far beyond his unmasking. Brandt set up a child prostitution ring with clients in the highest circles of society and politics, without any traces being adequately pursued in the client environment. An unsolved scandal that continues to smoulder to this day and weakens the trust of many Thuringians in democracy. Due to these and other overlaps in the NSU environment, the second committee of inquiry in Thuringia has focused on the relationship between violent right-wing extremism and right-wing terror and organized crime, arms and drug trafficking and crimes of sexualized violence against children – a veritable Thuringian swamp.

(2) The violent neo-Nazi, Blood&Honour activist and informer Ralf Marschner is said to have rented vehicles before two murders in Nuremberg and Munich and to have been present in the cities at the time of the crimes. He is also said to have employed Uwe Mundlos and Beate Zschäpe in his companies during their time in the underground. After the police murder in Heilbronn, he frantically left the country in 2007. His personnel file at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution was “irregularly, because prematurely, destroyed “8 in 2010. He has never been properly questioned – attempts by the second NSU investigative committee of the Bundestag were blocked. He currently lives in a neighboring country to the south.

(3) The way the Hessian Office for the Protection of the Constitution dealt with its officer Andreas T., who was present at the scene of Halit Yozgat’s murder in his internet café, must also be judged dramatically. In connection with the murder of Yozgat, T. demonstrably lied several times – according to many observers, also during the trial.9 Expert reports from a British forensics institute suggest that it must have been impossible for T. – contrary to his claim – not to have witnessed the murder and not to have seen the dying man as he left the internet café. The relevant files on T., i.e. a precise reconstruction of the relationship between the NSU complex and the Hessian security authorities, have been blocked for 120 (!) years. The Yozgat family’s questions remain unanswered: What was T. doing at the crime scene? Why did he not make himself available as a witness, but first had to be tracked down by the police? What was the subject of the telephone conversation he had with a V-person from the right-wing scene before the crime? Why did he lie about his knowledge of the series of murders at the time of the crime? What is the background to various irritating telephone conversations between T. and members of the security authorities that have become known through wiretap transcripts? Did T. himself shoot Yozgat? Why Halit Yozgat?

Results of parliamentary
NSU committees of inquiry

The final reports of the committees of inquiry in Thuringia and North Rhine-Westphalia have revealed that other parts of the security apparatus were also covered up by a strategy of concealment by the offices for the protection of the constitution and that a complete investigation has thus failed. The NRW Committee of Inquiry criticized six points, among others:

(1) Evidence of right-wing extremist perpetrators was largely ignored during the NSU phase. (2) There was a lack of openness in the investigation of a right-wing extremist crime, for example in the case of the murder of the Dortmund kiosk owner Kubasik. (3) The NRW authorities unilaterally investigated the victims – massively in the case of the nail bomb attack in Cologne’s Keupstraße, but also in the Dortmund murder case. This has led to a stigmatization of the families. (4) There are massive doubts about the nature and extent of the quality of the federal prosecutors’ investigation and about the theory that the NSU was not a network, but three actors. (5) The right-wing scene was stabilized by undercover agents. (6) Overall, there was a lack of transparency – many files remained under lock and key.

Today’s dangers of terror; remote effects of a lack of intelligence on security

Three examples can illustrate the extent to which the lack of clarification in the NSU complex and past V-Personnel operations are still having an effect today and the challenges we are currently facing in terms of security in view of the highly radicalized and violent scenes of the old and new right.

(1) To this day, the Frankfurt lawyer Seda B. and her family are being threatened with murder with reference to the NSU, apparently because she played an active role in the NSU trial and is a lawyer with civil courage. These death threats are also based on information that presumably comes from Hesse police circles. This is a police and political scandal as long as politicians do not successfully tackle the problem of this person’s endangerment. So far, neither the police or the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, nor the Minister of the Interior or the Prime Minister have been able to solve this problem.

(2) The scandal in Chemnitz: On August 27, 2018, the police leadership in Chemnitz was unwilling or unable to call for help in a timely manner in view of the known danger of up to 6,000 right-wing extremist demonstrators ready to use violence, although this would have been possible through units of the Lower Saxony police who were in Thuringia. Thus, an enormous escalation, including violence, for example against a Jewish restaurant, was accepted without adequate protection. After the early 1990s and the unleashing of the Hogesa and Pegida movements in 2014, this beacon from Chemnitz triggered a third wave of aggressive, potentially terrorist right-wing extremism in Germany. This was then intensified on September 1 by the fact that, for the first time in the history of post-war Germany, violent right-wing extremists made common cause with a party represented in the Bundestag.

Both are also the result of a longer development, particularly in Chemnitz, which can be traced back to the establishment of a violent hooligan scene in the 1990s and a police leadership under Uwe Reißmann, who, for his part, did not distinguish himself through his supervisory board function in the Chemnitz soccer club by wanting to bring the neo-Nazi scene of this club under control. Above all, Chemnitz shows how violence-prone the ideology of the new and old extreme right around the Identitarians and the Höcke wing is, which paranoically conjures up a deadly exchange of one’s own ethnicity. The New Zealand assassin Brenton Tarrant, who is intent on copycat attacks, has financially supported the Identitarians.

(3) Under the wing of former V-man and NPD politician Kai-Uwe Tr., neo-Nazi Tommy Frenck was able to develop into one of the most important mail order companies and concert organizers in the neo-Nazi scene in Germany – among other things, he organized the “Rock gegen Überfremdung” festival in Themar in 2017 with 6,000 visitors. In an interview, Stephan Kramer, current president of the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, explained: “It is no secret and it is also quite remarkable […] that Mr Tr. has played a very unfortunate role in that he has also ensured a certain professionalization of certain people involved. And Mr. Frenck must certainly also be mentioned here. “10

Reflection and
Security policy consequences

Although individual offices for the protection of the constitution have initiated initial changes and the activities of the Federal Public Prosecutor General’s Office in the “OSS”, “Freital” and “Revolution Chemnitz” terror cases show serious attempts to draw consequences from the failure in the NSU terror case, a systematic analysis of the consequences of the NSU scandal for the responsible institutions – especially security policy – is still pending. We would like to summarize the most important aspects of our own analyses and name some consequences that we believe are necessary for the security authorities’ handling of right-wing terrorist potential.

(1) Those affected: For those affected by the NSU complex, the lack of clarification after the traumatization caused by the respective crime, the subsequent years of stigmatization through suspicion (“Turkish mafia thesis”, “kebab murders”) as well as racist and humiliating investigation and interrogation methods means a further and continuing burden. The continued practice of secrecy and cover-up is the opposite of empathetic treatment of those affected.

“The institutional racism that dominates the murder and attack investigations has made it easy for the constitution protection authorities to withhold their knowledge about the three people who disappeared and the NSU. “11 In order to improve an open and proactive attitude of the security authorities towards minorities rather than a derogatory one, a non-racist, democratic political culture that is present in the institutions is required, and thus the defense against any racism that seeps into the institutions. This requires, for example, sustained public pressure to keep the authorities alert in this regard.

(2) Use of undercover agents: The massive use of undercover agents did not prevent the NSU’s crimes, but rather strengthened the scene. The fact of not knowing whether their information may or may not flow into the security policy of other security institutions, and whether their disclosure is at the discretion of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has led to a dangerous independence of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Apart from the fact that the use of V-Persons with a high-profile violent or criminal past and their protection from prosecution is ethically questionable and contradicts the principle of legality, the non-transparent and uncontrolled use of V-Persons and the associated practice of secrecy and source protection prevent democratic and constitutional instruments from coming into play and crimes from being solved. In certain contexts, the Federal Criminal Police Office and even the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office are de facto subordinate to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution through semi-secret cooperation guidelines, which has the authority to stop or suspend investigations.12

The Office for the Protection of the Constitution thus poses a risk to a fair and reasonable security policy in Germany – to the extent that it is able to block investigations into the past. As long as there is no significant reform, the purpose of the constitution protection system as a whole – including its function as an early warning system – must be called into question.

The protection of the constitution in Germany continues to have a barely controlled life of its own and, in view of the lack of political control, represents an institution in a state of emergency with corresponding security risks. The use of V-Persons is not only the reason for the secrecy, it is also one – if not the – instrument that has been used to systematically prevent control of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. A reform of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution can therefore not be achieved solely by changing individuals, but must be institutionalized.

(3) Control and management: The Office for the Protection of the Constitution must be controlled by independent bodies appointed by parliament and thus its independence must be abolished. The current control institutions responsible for the protection of the constitution, such as the parliamentary control committee, are not in a position to exercise any real control due to the duty of confidentiality imposed on them. The duty of confidentiality, which is deplored by committed parliamentarians, makes controllers (objective) accomplices to cover-ups or even cover-ups in cases of doubt. What is needed is a comprehensive control competence for independent persons and institutions appointed by parliament and a public reporting obligation from which it can be seen that the control actually works.

The failure of institutions is always also a failure of their respective leadership. This gives rise to the criterion of management structures and individuals who are actively and civilly interested in the preventive detection of potential terrorist actors – groups and individuals alike – and who are able and willing to act accordingly, despite the associated conflicts. In the area of recording right-wing terrorism, for example, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office has efficient individuals and structures that are willing to deal with conflicts, who internally check the flow of information between the security authorities and are therefore less dependent on the decisions of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, whether it provides information or not.

In spring 2019, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution under its new leadership warned of the risk of right-wing terrorist attacks;13 this indicates that a transparent and cooperative approach by the security authorities in the area of right-wing terrorism is urgently needed.

    1 Quoted from Mehmet Daimagüler: Outrage is not enough! Our state has failed. Now it’s our turn. Cologne 2017, 11.
    2 Quoted from: die schneeflocke (11.04.2018), ‘www.blog-rechtsanwael.de/sprechen-sie-ein-urteil-das-auch-vor-der-geschichte-bestand-hat’.
    3 Cf. Daimagüler (note 1), 211 f. and Antonia von der Behrens: Das Netzwerk des NSU, staatliches Mitverschulden und verhinderte Aufklärung, in: This (ed.): Kein Schlusswort. Nazi terror – security authorities – support network. Pleadings in the NSU trial. Hamburg 2018, 288.
    4 Other well-known cases of failed V-man operations from the authoritarian history of the Verfassungsschutz, which was partly dominated by former Nazis, include the murder of Ulrich Schmücker, various connections around the activities of the RAF (V-persons in the founding phase, Verena Becker, the murder of Buback), the Oktoberfest attack, the attack on Breitscheidplatz, the first NPD ban proceedings, etc. See Hajo Funke: Sicherheitsrisiko Verfassungsschutz. Staatsaffäre NSU: das V-Mann-Desaster und was daraus muss gelernt werden. Hamburg 2017. Cf. on the defense against dealing with the crimes of National Socialism in the history of the FRG: Hajo Funke: Der Kampf um die Erinnerung. Hitler’s delusions of redemption and his victims. Hamburg 2019.
    5 On “Aktion Konfetti” see von der Behrens (note 3), 314 ff.
    6 Cf. Daimagüler (note 1), 132 f.
    7 The Verfassungsschutz also provided him with technical equipment.
    8 Von der Behrens (note 3), 287.
    9 Cf. Alexander Kienzle: The NSU murders are inconceivable without the domestic secret service, in: Andreas Förster, Thomas Moser and Thumilan Selvakumaran (eds.): Ende der Aufklärung. The open wound of the NSU. Tübingen 2018, 234 f.
    10 Cf. the ARD documentary “Rechtsrockland” available at: ‘mediathek.daserste.de/Reportage-Dokumentation/Die-Story-im-Ersten-Rechtsrockland-nur/Video?bcastId=799280&documentId=56608760’.
    11 Von der Behrens (note 3), 290.
    12 Cf. Funke: Security risk (note 4), 133 f.
    13 A comparable warning by the then BfV President Fromm from the fall of 2000 – parallel to the first NSU murder – was blocked by other security authorities, and warnings by one of the authors of this article at the same time (e.g. Funke: Paranoia und Politik 2002) about (pre-)terrorist groups such as Blood&Honour were dismissed as exaggerated or not taken note of publicly. Nor was the desperate demonstration “No tenth victim” organized by Hakki Keskin and Yozgat’s relatives in Kassel in 2006.

    Hans-Joachim Funke is Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin. In connection with the NSU trial, he worked as an expert witness in six parliamentary committees of inquiry and at the BKA.

    Björn Mrosko SJ is Spiritual Director of the KSJ Hamburg; he is active in the field of child protection and prevention in the Archdiocese of Hamburg and the Jesuit Order.


No end to history: The topicality of Czesław Miłosz’s “Seduced Thinking”

Authoritarian governments are on the rise again, both in the East and the West. People on both sides of the Iron Curtain were already confronted with some of the resulting challenges decades ago. Theo Mechtenberg, theologian and Germanist, German-Polish translator and journalist, draws critically on the work of Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz to develop preventive measures against totalitarian systems.
By Theo Mechtenberg
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/7-2019/kein-ende-der-geschichte-zur-aktualitaet-von-czeslaw-milosz-verfuehrtes-denken-/.]

Thirty years ago, the American Francis Fukuyama published his much-discussed essay “The End of History”. The Berlin Wall had not yet fallen, but in Poland the power of the communists had already been broken by the overwhelming victory of “Solidarność” in the semi-free elections of June 4, 1989, and Gorbachev’s reforms under the banner of “glasnost” and “perestroika” were foreshadowing the end of the Soviet Union. In this phase, the time seemed to have come to announce the end of history in the sense that with the downfall of totalitarian communism, liberal-liberal democracy had achieved a final victory and that now, in the spirit of Hegel, the goal of world history had been reached.

The consequence of this view of history would be a historicization of the past. The entire body of ideas of intellectual confrontation with totalitarian communism in philosophy and literature would have lost its topicality and would only be of historical interest. Today we know that Fukuyama was wrong. The past has not simply passed. We are experiencing its return in a new guise: The rise of China, a market-oriented communist surveillance state, Russia ruled authoritatively by Putin with imperial ambitions, theocratic systems of Islam, the United States under a populist President Trump who makes decisions based on gut feeling, and a European Union in which two authoritarian governments, Poland and Hungary, are in charge and populist movements and parties are on the rise. Western democracies may not (yet) be under threat from the outside, but their internal threat is obvious.

In this situation, it may be worthwhile to fall back on the archived ideas of earlier confrontations with communism in order to find answers and orientation in the current challenges. This is apparently the opinion of Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza. He recently recommended that its readers read Czesław Miłosz’s treatise “Seduced Thinking” – with the help of the Lithuanian philosopher Leonidas Donskis, who died in 2016.1

Seduced thinking in communist totalitarianism

 “Seduced Thinking” was published in 1949. In this text, the later Nobel Prize winner for literature, who was already living in exile at the time, unmasks the generally hidden aspects of communist totalitarianism. Even the country’s intellectual elite succumbed to it at times, as the regime managed to make them accept the loss of freedom without the use of violence. After the terrible experiences of the occupation in the Second World War, with the destruction of everything that was valuable and sacred to the people, the seductive New Faith offered itself with its promises, which were soon to prove deceptive. But because the totalitarian system had used the time to establish itself, people were now forced to live under its conditions.

 To analyze this situation, Miłosz draws on the Persian term “ketman”, a principle of early Islam that granted its followers the right to keep their true faith secret in the face of threats to life and limb and to simulate another, imposed faith. Miłosz uses ketman to analyze communist totalitarianism in a double sense – as a form of existence under its conditions and as an approach to exposing it. In addition, ketman can serve to expose the general programming of people, their brainwashing and mass manipulation, making this term a transideological and transcivilizational idiom that can be applied to both a religious and a secular ideocracy and can encompass all areas of life.

There are very subtle forms of ketman. For example, Russian intellectuals masked their rejection of Stalinism with a special appreciation of Russian literature and art. They emphasized the tradition of a harmonious unity of the Russian nation in contrast to the allegedly fragmented, atomized Western society. Articles and books were written on the enigmatic and fascinating nature of the Russian spirit, which conveyed an image of Russia that was enthusiastically received by the Russophile intellectuals of the West, but at the same time concealed the inhuman face of Stalinism.

Ketman as a survival strategy

Ketman is a method of living and surviving in a totalitarian system. Miłosz sees it as “the only strategy that gives people the chance to preserve their dignity and security. It is based on the conviction that people in the Soviet Union or in the People’s Republic play any role under a mask day after day, pretending to be faithful and loyal in order to survive the regime in its tragic stages.” And not only in the “tragic stages”, but also in normal everyday life. In the GDR, for example, it was customary to open “Neues Deutschland” in the morning before going to work to find out about the party’s political course of the day from the headlines, so as to be able to use it as a sign of loyalty if necessary. This form of purely external conformity, which goes hand in hand with an inner refusal, is a kind of acting, whereby one does not play one’s role on the theater stage, but in the midst of life, in the office, in daily dealings with colleagues, in chance encounters and – above all – in direct contact with those in power. Strictly speaking, this is living a lie.

This method is exhausting. With increasing repression, it requires constant vigilance, a mental acrobatics that serves as camouflage. One wrong word, one mistake in argumentation, and you are unmasked. The security that ketman guarantees depends solely on the masquerade. In a totalitarian system, it is not limited to individual cases of personal behavior, but is virtually a public condition. You are therefore only safe as long as you are a member of this public masquerade. And it ultimately makes those who make use of it indistinguishable from the actors of totalitarianism. Thus, the masquerade can lead to becoming part of the totalitarian system and its collective hysteria, to blowing the totalitarian horn oneself, to condemning even the real or imagined enemies of the system in order not to be taken for one of its enemies.

The danger of losing personal identity

What is initially seen as the only chance to preserve one’s dignity and security in a repressive, totalitarian system can ultimately lead to the loss of what one wants to preserve. Those who constantly practise ketman run the risk of identifying completely with the system, albeit only apparently and unintentionally. The mask then becomes second nature. This means that ketman is not only a method of survival, it also harbors the danger of revealing the innermost part of a person, their personal identity. In order to rule out even the slightest possibility of being convicted of treason, the new “truth”, the moral, political and cultural terminology of the new faith falsified into its opposite, becomes one’s own vocabulary.

As a final consequence, someone practicing ketman, out of fear of being exposed, may pose as a particularly fanatical follower of the New Faith. He is then prepared to take the first best opportunity to betray opponents of the system, even those among his friends. But such behavior is not without risk. For he himself could then be accused in the same way by those he hands over to the system.

In such cases, we are dealing with a psychological mechanism. Those who seek to ensure their survival in a totalitarian system by betraying others are basically aware of the reprehensibility of their actions. However, in order not to have to admit it to themselves, they invent some kind of justification strategy and in this way suppress this knowledge from their consciousness. This, however, determines his emotional world. Self-hatred is the result, which – directed outwards – is discharged in aggressive behavior. Such a transformation of hatred can be observed in a totalitarian system in general. The personal unhappiness experienced under the conditions of totalitarianism and the experience of constant frustration generate feelings of hatred.

However, mindful of their own powerlessness, these feelings are not directed against the real enemy, not against the totalitarian system and its perpetrators, but against fellow human beings who suffer from totalitarianism in the same way. This is the pinnacle of totalitarianism, in that those deprived of their freedom destroy all autonomous individuality in themselves and in others through mutual hatred. The radical indoctrination inherent in totalitarianism and the fanaticism associated with it thus lead to an atomization of society and create the conditions for instrumentalizing the people at its mercy at will and collectivizing them into a compliant mass for the purposes of the totalitarian regime. And the people instrumentalized and collectivized in this way generally find it extremely difficult to recognize that their hatred, fueled by daily indoctrination and propaganda and directed against their fellow human beings, is in fact a projection of their actual hatred, which is basically directed at the inhumane conditions under which they have to live.

This lack of self-reflection is further hindered by the fact that the actual enmity against the repressive regime and the imposed New Faith is channeled and redirected outwards by means of collective hysteria. Those who live in this totalitarian world are inclined to carry out this redirection themselves under the mask of the ketman. If this behavior is sufficiently practiced, it is not shed like a fashionable garment once the totalitarian system collapses, but remains intact and enables people to take on a new role adapted to democratic conditions after its collapse. There are also countless examples of former National Socialists and post-communists doing this.

Totalitarianism is not unlimited

It is a dark world that Miłosz analyzes in “Seduced Thinking”. It shows clear similarities with George Orwell’s novel “1984” and the work of Franz Kafka. However, Miłosz also points out the limits of totalitarianism. Although it is capable of destroying a free civil society, creating pathological interpersonal relationships and instrumentalizing violence and hatred, it cannot fully and permanently enslave the human soul. Despite all the negative descriptions of the world of the New Faith, Miłosz remains an optimist. He is convinced that man has the power to overcome the reality created by totalitarianism. However much the person practising ketman involves himself in totalitarianism: The masquerade he uses is at the same time proof that totalitarianism is ultimately not total, because the mask, for all its dubiousness, is also a protection that is able to deny totalitarianism access to the hidden thinking and feeling.

Decades later, the collapse of communism showed that Miłosz was right in this assessment. Ketman thus illustrates a situation in which someone can be a conformist, collaborator and secret resister at the same time. This is the loyalty of the disloyal, but it only lasts until the moment seems to have come to shed the masquerade. For the people of the GDR, this moment came in the fall of 1989, when they set out from the protective space of the churches, gathered by the thousands and ushered in the end of GDR rule with their commitment to freedom.

In view of this possibility, Miłosz is also far from condemning people who adapt to an unfree system from a seemingly secure position. This would create an undue distance, which would make the necessary question of how one would have acted in such a situation superfluous. Only the inhumane ideas and the totalitarian regimes that instrumentalize them should be condemned.

The relevance of past experiences

Although a simple transfer of the analysis made in “Seduced Thinking” and taken up and interpreted by Leonidas Donskis to democratic conditions is out of the question, analogies can be drawn which, in view of increasing populism, reveal a threat to the democratic order in the European Union.

Adam Michnik obviously had these analogies applicable to Poland’s current situation in mind when he recommended Leonidas Donskis’ text to the readers of his newspaper. The efforts of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party (PiS) and its government to bring the courts and media under its control are leading to an increase in authoritarian structures and ways of thinking. As a result, the form of existence of the ketman described by Miłosz is gaining social significance.

In this context, Michnik was probably primarily concerned with an analogy, that of hatred. After all, for years he has been one of the most important admonishers of the destructive and self-destructive hatred that is spreading like a cancer in Polish society: In the political debate, there are hardly any opponents, but almost only enemies who need to be fought with all their might. None other than Jarosław Kaczyński has repeatedly referred to opposition politicians as “enemies of Poland” and “traitors to the Polish nation”. In such a political climate, right-wing extremists can give free rein to their anti-Semitism with impunity and call for “Death to the enemies of Poland” on posters in the “March of Independence” they organize on 11 November each year. The redirection of hatred described by Miłosz has now become a mass phenomenon in Poland.

But he who sows hatred will reap murder. The hatred spread primarily on social media was also the enabler of the open-stage murder of Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz on January 13 during the most important Polish charity event, with the murderer publicly claiming his act of bloodshed as revenge against the opposition Civic Platform – for which he was celebrated on social media, not even anonymously, as a “national hero”.

The Gdansk funeral service with thousands of citizens became a manifestation of overcoming hatred. However, when the Dominican Ludwik Wiśniewski condemned the general hatred in his speech, the state television camera caught the face of Donald Tusk, the head of the previous government and current EU Council President, the number one enemy for PiS, suggesting that he was responsible for the hatred in Poland, quite contrary to the Dominican’s intention. In view of such manipulation, there is little hope that the murder of the Gdansk mayor will become a turning point in overcoming hatred.

The example of Poland shows the importance of social media today in creating certain moods in a society. This raises the fundamental question of the connection between totalitarianism and the digital age. This is largely characterized by the creation of imaginary realities, including those of a political nature and political influence. Such manipulations pose a direct threat to democracy. We are already in a kind of cyber war. Hackers from foreign powers are gaining possession of sensitive data from leading politicians and using software robots to discredit them by the millions, as was the case in the American election campaign, in which Hillary Clinton was deliberately harmed in this way in order to bring Donald Trump to power. Fake news also plays an important role in this context, and experience has shown that it does not fail to have an effect even when it is exposed as such.

In this way, populist movements and parties can be created and promoted in the interests of certain powers, such as Russia, with the aim of destabilizing European states and the European Union as a whole. The digital age thus opens up new possibilities for totalitarianism, which, with the help of its manipulation techniques via social media, is able to create a simulated reality that makes the recipient unfree in a very subtle way by accepting it uncritically and without reflection.

Once this state has been reached, there is a clear parallel to the mechanisms of totalitarianism analyzed in Miłosz’s “Seduced Thinking”, in that people today are forced to live under the conditions of digital totalitarianism. And we are only at the beginning of this development, which is likely to prove to be one of the greatest challenges facing democracy.

    1 Leonidas Donskis: “Nie oskarżamy zniewolnych ludzi. Oskarżamy nieludzkie idee i reżimy polityczne, które z nich wyrastają”, Let us not condemn unfree people. Let us condemn inhuman ideas and political regimes that arise from them. Gazeta Wyborcza (2.2.2019). My text uses this source.

The bishops in Lingen
By Godehard Brüntrup
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/6-2019/die-bischoefe-in-lingen/.]

A man who is no longer quite young applies for the seminary. He has felt the call to the priesthood since his youth. He can’t let go of the question. After years, he finally decides to take the plunge and knocks on the door of the seminary. During the admission interviews, it emerged that he had had an intimate love affair with a woman for a long time. How should the church assess this part of his biography? Most of the perpetrators of abuse belong to the sexually immature and relationship-weak type who do not know how to articulate their own needs in an age-appropriate manner. Against this background, should we be happy that he has integrated the experience of the partnership into his biography? Or should this period rather be seen as a period of moral darkness, which gives rise to skepticism as to whether the candidate is really suitable? Most contemporaries would probably have no moral problems with the candidate’s life story. Would their assessment change if the young man had been in a homosexual relationship? Probably not. If you take the church’s sexual morality as a yardstick, he would have been in a permanent state of grave sin in both scenarios.

Can the Church compromise here with the moral sensibilities of the secular world and also of a large proportion of its own members? Or must it remain true to its tradition at the cost of isolation? Even if it will then be a small “city on a hill” and no longer a “leaven” that simultaneously dissolves into the moral sensibilities of the people and changes them? And where are the boundaries between the unchanging foundation of faith and the changeable superstructures and extensions?

These questions are not new. But in view of the abuse crisis, they suddenly arise with existential urgency for the Church. The sexual abuse of minors by clerics is shaking the Church to its very foundations, precisely because since last year’s major study, the suspicion that the understanding of ministry, the priestly way of life and sexual ethics were not neutral, but instead provided a nurturing environment for acts of sexual violence, has become abundantly clear. That is why the bishops addressed precisely these issues at their spring meeting. They did so with remarkable openness, as they had invited other guests in addition to critical speakers from the field of theology, who were granted full speaking rights. The author of these lines was one of these guests. The courage with which people then spoke plainly in the plenary session and in the working groups was impressive. This does not correspond to the preconceived image that many people have of the bishops. The popular lashing out at the bishops has become a reflex that is understandable out of anger, but not very helpful in the matter at hand. A sincere acknowledgement of the problems and a serious struggle for solutions were palpable in Lingen. While more than a few dignitaries had not heard the shot in 2010, in 2019 no one gave in to the hope that the issues raised by the abuse crisis could be calmed by a few administrative adjustments and reforms.

The oppressive helplessness in the room was only the counterpart to recognizing the depth and drama of the problem. It is not about reforms, but about nothing other than a structural crisis. Catholic sexual ethics, the understanding of ministry, celibacy and the position of women in the Church cannot be reformed by an aggiornamento or an update. Taken together, they are a firmly established body of doctrine. If you pull out two or three building blocks, the whole edifice starts to slip. The crisis situation of the Church at the beginning of the 21st century is therefore truly historic. Many German bishops are also aware of this. That is why the majority of them want to face up to this challenge.

The synodal path is a somewhat helpless attempt to go into the uncertain future of the Church together, questioning and searching. It is precisely this openness to results that is a cause for concern for an influential minority within the Bishops’ Conference. Lashing out at this group in the media is of no use. On the contrary: their concerns are not unjustified. They are trembling seismographs for the quakes and tectonic shifts that are inevitably coming to the Church. They fear that not only extensions and superstructures, but also the foundations of the doctrinal edifice will be shaken. This fear is well-founded. But the reaction to this insight cannot simply be the tragic-heroic closing of the wagon castle. We cannot avoid an open dialog that questions not everything, but a great deal. If a vest is buttoned up wrong somewhere, you have to open it all the way down. The only question is how far down the fault begins.

    SJ, Godehard Brüntrup is Professor of Metaphysics, Philosophy of Language and Mind at the Munich School of Philosophy.

Synodal path – but spiritual
By Stefan Kiechle
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/5-2019/synodaler-weg-aber-geistlich/.]

In view of the dramatic church crisis, which is shaking the foundations of the church, the German Bishops’ Conference decided at its spring plenary assembly to take a “binding synodal path” with the church. This is intended to tackle pressing issues, renew the church and restore lost trust.

What the bishops understand by this path remains rather unclear: It is neither a “synod” – they probably shied away from this delicate instrument because it would be difficult to implement in terms of church politics – nor a “process of conversation”, as it was approached with great expectations from 2011 to 2015, but came to nothing after all. The path metaphor is broad and keeps the project rather non-binding; on the other hand, the addition of “binding” is intended to bind all those who participate to the results. “Synodal” probably means a broad participation of all church forces – the Central Committee of German Catholics is explicitly mentioned as a partner. What is to be tackled in particular is so-called clericalism: according to this, male celibate ministers claim to hold a higher rank and all power in their hands due to their ordination. Scandals around the world in recent years have shown that this system is infested with corruption right up to the top of the hierarchy and has thus disavowed itself, not only in terms of credibility, but also in terms of functioning. How is this supposed to work: a binding synodal path that is not clerical? What else is it? Presumably it should be spiritual, because this is the basic requirement for church paths of this kind.

Not clerical: In order to grind down the bastions of clericalism, the bishops must decide to suspend their clerical power in an act of clerical power before they begin. If they were to reserve the right to approve the results of the synodal process after it has ended – each one individually for their own diocese – the process would be clerically dominated from the outset and thus disrupted. But is this possible under current canon law? Can a bishop – and if so, to what extent – suspend his responsibility for his diocese? Does this not require a new ecclesiology? Is this not a “synod” after all? What would Rome say – the universal church is known to tick slowly? The particularly orthodox are already crying out that there is a danger of heresy here. But if the bastions in the setting, the method and the decision-making structure of the process have not been razed before it begins, it will remain a non-binding discussion or consultation process, because in the end, every bishop will be able to opt out by saying that he cannot implement the results out of his conscience or because of the Church’s teaching. The bishops have to become somewhat anarchic, and for this they need courage and strength.

But spiritually: the Spirit works in the members as well as in the heads of the Church. If he works in everyone, everyone should be listened to, and everyone should have a say – according to Benedict’s Rule, the convent should listen especially to the youngest monk. If the “laity” (the people of God) also have a say in decisions, should we not rehabilitate the word “democratic” (the people rule), which has been ostracized in the Church, at the expense of “hierarchical”? Or simply say “spirit-led” – and the spirit blows where and in whom and how it wants? And doesn’t this synodal path require a youth, women’s and laity proportion in order for the spirit to work?

A spiritual process presupposes that all those who participate enter into it indifferently; this key word of Ignatian spirituality initially means open-ended, but deeper still: so free from personal preferences, prejudices and preconceptions that one can listen completely to the Spirit, who perhaps wants to work in a completely new way. Such a process must be shielded so that it is not manipulated from the outset by lobbyists, power fighters and doctrinaire structure-preservers – they are not indifferent and do not want to be. There must be no veto rights. “Spiritual process” also means that all participants pay attention to the “impulses”, i.e. spiritual thoughts, feelings and moods, with boldness and honesty, and that they discover where the spirit is leading them by distinguishing between comfort and desolation.

A process is spiritual when spiritual people dominate, not canonists, administrators or doctrinaires. Even when they work well, they are structurally conservative, so they tend to dictate to the spirit what “works” and what “doesn’t work”. Rather, their task is to create the right framework for projects that the Spirit is working on anew, and these may also be new in legal, organizational and theological terms. Anarchic and spiritual spaces are needed to counter the fears of professional custodians – new order will be restored soon enough.

Is a kairos in the offing after the upheavals of these years? Let’s hope that the Church in Germany has the courage and strength to allow itself to be guided by the Spirit along the synodal path.

    Stefan Kiechle SJ, Dr. theol., born 1960, was a university pastor and novice master, city chaplain and provincial (head of Germany) of the Jesuits. He is currently editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine “Stimmen der Zeit” and commissioner for Ignatian spirituality.

EU between crisis and hope: The principle of subsidiarity is being misused for the purpose of desolidarization

The European Union is looking for new ways to once again stand for the ideals that once made it so successful. However, it faces several challenges in doing so. Josef Senft, Christian social ethicist and associate professor in Würzburg, observes that the EU is losing the trust and respect of its citizens on the one hand – and is being destabilized by national politicians for their own interests on the other. Senft develops the solution of “solidarity-based subsidiarity” in order to make the EU more popular again at regional level without it losing its ability to act.
By Josef Senft
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/5-2019/eu-zwischen-krise-und-hoffnung-das-subsidiaritaetsprinzip-wird-zur-entsolidarisierung-missbraucht/.]

Following a growing loss of confidence in almost all member states, the EU declared in March 2017 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of its foundation that it intends to achieve its goals in future “in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity” by “listening to citizens and working with national parliaments, regions and municipalities in a democratic, efficient and transparent decision-making process”.1

How necessary, but also how unsatisfactory the realization of this promise has been so far is shown by the tense starting conditions in almost all member states in view of the European elections in May 2019 – despite the currently somewhat more positive poll results2. While debates used to be dominated by issues of globalization and transnational networking, they are now dominated by exclusion and marginalization. A disintegration of the EU no longer seems completely out of the question, and not just because of Brexit, “and populist, identitarian nationalism is gaining strength almost everywhere “3.

This exclusionary nationalism is often justified to the European public with reference to the right of national self-determination and the principle of subsidiarity, which is emphasized in the EU treaties but has often been opportunistically misused in EU policy practice. However, the principle of subsidiarity, as it has been widely recognized in the tradition of Christian social ethics, stands for a society based on solidarity and the common good. The European Union, which has defined human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights as its fundamental values in the preambles to its treaties, also stands by this principle.

Unsolidary instrumentalization

Article 5 of the Maastricht Treaty (1993) states: “In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.” The Treaty of Lisbon (2009) confirms this and explicitly mentions regions and municipalities in addition to the Member States. A new addition is the possibility of a subsidiarity complaint and a subsidiarity action before the Court of Justice of the European Union; an instrument that has hardly been used in subsequent years.

What was planned as the fairest possible division of tasks between the EU and the member states, including their regions and municipalities, has recently been increasingly reduced to its own interests by politicians who want to strengthen the nation state. For example, the Austrian head of government, Sebastian Kurz, is striving for a “subsidiarity pact” in the EU that would allow matters such as the reception of refugees to be decided exclusively at national level.4 In other countries, politicians belonging to populist parties fear that the EU will expropriate sovereignty. This is why, with reference to the principle of subsidiarity, they usually only want to grant it the provision of security and trade policy framework conditions.

In Germany, four of the five economic experts argue that the principle of subsidiarity should guide the reform debate in the EU.5 However, this is only in order to shift more responsibility for fiscal and economic policy back to the individual member states in future and at the same time exclude joint liability for sovereign debt.

These efforts, which are geared towards the national interest, are also supported by social ethicist Wolfgang Ockenfels OP, who advocates an EU policy “according to the alphabet of subsidiarity”. In his opinion, “the dismantling of Europe begins where people want to lead a comfortable life at the expense of others. Those who are not prepared to help themselves by making a substantial contribution have lost the right to expect solidarity-based help from others. “6

The leadership of the Dominican Province sees “nationalist tendencies, as also set out in the AfD’s basic program” as a worrying development, because they are increasingly taking precedence over the idea of a common Europe. She criticizes the commitment of Dominican priest Ockenfels to the AfD-affiliated Desiderius Erasmus Foundation and describes his stance on the AfD as “his personal individual opinion”. The AfD’s policies are accompanied by “the growing use of a brutalizing and simplistic language of demarcation and isolation, which sometimes even leads to open hostility “7.

Most EU leaders are now more or less aware that solidarity must instead determine the future of the EU if it is to respond to the frustration and hardship of the losers of globalization – as expressed in the protests of the yellow vest movement in France or Brexit – and ultimately ensure its continued existence. This is why the “Declaration of Social Rights” was proclaimed at the Social Summit in November 2017, which was obviously intended to go beyond the ineffective “European Social Charter” adopted back in 1961. However, this also clearly missed the opportunity for a social Europe. In addition to general, non-binding commitments, the legislative initiative on reconciling work and family life was one of the few concrete proposals. However, many had hoped for the introduction of a Europe-wide minimum wage and common unemployment insurance. Germany in particular had vetoed the corresponding proposal, claiming that this would lead to a “transfer union”. According to Heribert Prantl, although the social dimension is included in the EU treaties and in the texts of politicians, such as Manfred Weber (CSU), who wants to make the EU a “more social union”, the practice is rather poor. Europe not only needs treaties, but also the trust of its citizens.8

How Christian social ethics shaped subsidiarity

In the debates on subsidiarity, reference is repeatedly made to a definition from the social encyclical Quadragesimo anno, which states: “Just as that which the individual can accomplish on his own initiative and with his own powers must not be taken away from him and assigned to social activity, so it is contrary to justice to claim for the wider and superior community that which the smaller and subordinate communities can accomplish and bring to a good end; all social activity is, after all, subsidiary by its very nature and concept; it should support the members of the social body, but must never crush or absorb them” (no. 79).

The much-vaunted principle of subsidiarity thus contains not only a prohibition of deprivation, which forbids the larger society to deprive the smaller communities of those tasks that they can perform on their own, but also a requirement of assistance, which obliges the larger community to provide helpful support to the smaller one.

Oswald von Nell-Breuning SJ, the author of Quadragesimo anno, has repeatedly pointed out this solidarity component of the subsidiarity principle, which is so often ignored in the EU debate. When applying the principle of subsidiarity, it is not a question of waiting to see what the smaller communities are able to achieve by using their last reserves, “but of giving the kind of help that enables people to help themselves or that makes their self-help more successful “9.

The churches’ joint social statement “For a future in solidarity and justice”, which was drawn up in a broad consultation process, also expressly emphasizes the subsidiarity principle’s requirement for assistance: individuals and “small communities must receive the help that enables them to act independently, in a self-help and public welfare-oriented manner”; it “does not correspond to the meaning of the principle of subsidiarity if it is understood unilaterally as a restriction of state responsibility “10.

Although the preambles to the EU treaties speak of solidarity in general and in passing, it is missing as a requirement to assist the principle of subsidiarity. In a current and otherwise quite detailed description of the meaning and purpose of the principle of subsidiarity in the EU11 published by the European Parliament, the principle of assistance is not explicitly mentioned. And even where both principles are mentioned together, the resulting assistance is often first excluded by national red lines and then becomes an implausible appendage, as when Angela Merkel says in an interview: “Solidarity between euro partners must never lead to a debt union, but must be help for self-help. “12

In his speech to the European Parliament (2014), Pope Francis said that Europe is in danger of “gradually losing its soul and also the ‘humanist spirit’ that it loves and defends” because technical and economic issues dominate the political debate at the expense of an authentic anthropological orientation.13 In his 2017 book “What’s wrong with you, Europe”, social ethicist Friedhelm Hengsbach SJ argues that the EU will only succeed if its institutions and procedures are seriously aligned with and involve the nations, regions and lifeworlds of its citizens. In his opinion, “since the Maastricht Treaty, the market-radical legacy has flowed into the construction of the European Single Market and the monetary union and has caused great damage there”.14 The “four great freedoms” of the cross-border movement of goods, services, labor and capital have been given such priority over the fundamental social rights of dependent employees that federal solidarity has been eroded.

Solidarity-based subsidiarity in Europe

The goal of a united Europe, which is based on local and regional self-government in addition to the national level in line with the principle of subsidiarity, was considered very early on, but only in the form of councils and initiatives that had very little influence on EU policy decisions. One example of this is the “Council of European Municipalities and Regions”, which was founded in 1951 and has an advisory function. Another example is the “European Citizens’ Initiative”, which was opened up as an option in the Treaty of Lisbon. It can be used to ensure that the European Commission has to deal with an issue if at least one million votes have been collected in a quarter of the EU member states. As such citizens’ initiative proposals were hardly ever implemented and after an investigation report identified shortcomings in the European Citizens’ Initiative instrument, the proposal for a “Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Citizens’ Initiative” was made in 2017. This calls for less bureaucracy and better handling as well as the development of the full potential of the European Citizens’ Initiative, including for young people, as a contribution to bringing the EU closer to its citizens.

In the opinion of political scientist Claus Leggewie, however, a systematic consolidation of citizens’ forums is needed that goes far beyond “the timid instrument of the European Citizens’ Initiatives”. In his introductory essay to the German Federal Agency for Civic Education’s focus issue “Europe votes”, he writes: “Consultative participation should become the ‘fourth power’, from the local to the supranational level. “15 This would increase the legitimacy of direct and indirect votes and the quality of political decisions and remove an important argument from the growing number of opponents of the EU. The European Structural Funds, such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) or the European Social Fund (ESF), should have a solidary effect, as they are the second largest item in the EU budget after agricultural policy and aim to reduce the structural disparities between all regions of the European Union. However, due to poor communication, only a third of all European citizens are aware of the impact of these funds on their daily lives; too many potential beneficiaries are also put off by the complexity of implementing European projects.16

In the opinion of the Young European Federalists17 , the EU has reached a point where it is necessary to move more decisively than before towards an efficient division of tasks between the EU and the Member States, including their countries and regions, based on the principle of subsidiarity. In times of globalized markets, financial and economic crisis, increased mobility expectations on the labour market, climate change and scarcity of resources, the challenges of the 21st century can, in their opinion, mostly only be tackled at European level and no longer at national level.

The example of migration policy at least makes it clear what the opposite of solidarity-based subsidiarity is. With the extremely questionable decisions on Dublin I to III, the other EU states have denied solidarity to Italy and Greece in particular for many years. As necessary as it would be, it is not possible to address the EU’s failed migration policy here. However, one approach to subsidiary aid for refugees should be mentioned as an example. Political scientist Gesine Schwan shows18 how municipalities that are willing to take in refugees could receive special support from the EU. She proposes European funds with which project-related loans for infrastructure and integration measures can be applied for directly by municipalities. This would allow them to receive money not only for refugees, but also for investments that are necessary anyway. In this way, bridges can be built between the interests of the citizens of the municipalities and those seeking protection.

The cities of Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn, among others, showed that municipalities are willing to take on this kind of responsibility when they wrote an open letter to the German government in July 2018 offering to take in even more refugees in need than before.19 The German Association of Cities was not the only one to welcome this initiative, as direct aid and intensive political efforts are needed as long as people are dying in the Mediterranean. The fact that cities and municipalities in other European countries are also prepared to provide such subsidiary solidarity for refugees is shown by the example of Mayor Ada Colau of Barcelona and the Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris. In January 2019, he offered to let 49 migrants who were on the ship of the non-governmental organization (NGO) “Sea Watch” in dramatic distress at sea dock after Italy and Malta refused to do so; after all, a few European countries were then willing to take the people in, but only after weeks.

In March 2017, the European Commission published a “White Paper on the Future of Europe”. Its aim is to initiate an “honest and comprehensive debate with citizens on the direction in which Europe should develop in the coming years. Every voice should be heard”. The Commission wants to initiate these debates “together with the European Parliament and in the national parliaments, cities and regions of Europe”. Five possible scenarios for Europe in 2025 are presented. The NGOs active at European level were not satisfied with the five scenarios and sent a sixth scenario to Brussels, namely Scenario 6: “Sustainable Europe for its citizens “20 , in which they call for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and greater “influence of citizens and civil society on key European policy issues” through greater transparency, participation and accountability.

However, in the run-up to the summit in Sibiu, Romania, where the European Council will discuss the course that needs to be set for the future of the EU on May 9, 2019, it is already becoming apparent that the discussion will be less about the five scenarios in the White Paper and more about Emmanuel Macron’s vision of “European sovereignty”. Despite the scepticism regarding domestic political developments in France, Macron’s “Initiative for Europe” can be described as a major step forward compared to the fragmented reform proposals that have been put forward to date, which declares the creation of a “sovereign, united and democratic Europe” to be a necessity in the face of internal and external problems.21

One example of an encouraging European grassroots movement is the non-partisan citizens’ initiative “Pulse of Europe”, which has managed to get thousands of people to demonstrate with European flags in many cities since 2016.22 They want to make the European idea visible and audible again. To this end, Pulse of Europe also invites people to debate Europe’s fundamental values and problems in small groups (“house parliaments”) and submits specific European policy demands to selected decision-makers.

A Europe of the regions

When people talk about regions in Europe, the first thing that comes to mind is not decentralized democracy models, but conflicts in areas where independence movements want to achieve more autonomy or even statehood. Often, as in Catalonia or northern Italy, these are flourishing regions that are in a better financial position than other parts of the country. They complain that their interests are not sufficiently recognized by the national government and derive their right to self-determination from regional characteristics. If the majority of a part of a country democratically demands more rights, this must prompt the central government to make concessions, but – except in the case of colonial oppression, for example – secession is illegitimate under the UN Charter without the consent of the state that remains behind. In any case, the responsibility of the central government and ultimately also of the EU for the poorer regions becomes clear. This and other aspects of social and economic responsibility are represented by committed Europeans who see a democratic vision in a Europe of the regions. For them, Europe is not about unity, but about unification and solidarity.23

Representatives of Attac, for example, are calling for a “Europe of the people and the regions instead of a Europe of corporations, financial markets and national egoisms “24 . For such a “refounding of Europe from below”, a revival of the already valid principle of subsidiarity is considered necessary as protection against an overpowering and lobbying central state. In view of the requirements, legal norms and competition rules, the municipalities, as local and regional communities, should vigorously and creatively exercise their democratic rights in the allocation of financial resources.

Political scientist Ulrike Guérot also proposes this and advocates a European republic in which the regions are significantly upgraded.25 She argues for a kind of second chamber, similar to the Bundesrat or the Senate in other countries. In such a House of Representatives, the regions and their sensitivities would be given more consideration alongside the European Parliament than is currently the case. In her opinion, this could also create more proximity to citizens beyond nations. The latter would have more or less had their day, having long tried to guarantee prosperity and security for at least a large proportion of their inhabitants.

However, these ideas of a Europe of the regions are also called into question as “a beautiful distant pole star”. In contrast to Guérot’s ideas of a European republic, Mathias Greffrath believes that we must start from the reality that the nation state will continue to be needed as long as there is no European social union and no financial equalization between regions with different productivity levels.26 As there is currently no European labour law, employment relationships will be deregulated everywhere in Europe and precarious employment will become the rule.

Together with the vision of a Europe of the regions, the following questions are already being discussed intensively today and must continue to be: What elements of direct democracy are possible at the EU level, analogous to citizen consultations and referendums? What impulses and dilemmas arise from the current debate on “homeland” when advocating a Europe of the regions? How could a reorientation of agriculture and the enormous (almost 60 billion euros per year) agricultural subsidies succeed, which instead of promoting large farms to a much greater extent than smaller and organic farms as has been the case up to now, favors the conditions for more regional marketing? Shouldn’t self-sufficient agriculture in Third World countries be supported in a subsidiary manner instead of, for example, enticing African countries to open their markets to European imports by up to 83 percent with questionable quid pro quos (cf. the EPA agreement)?

In order to be able to deal with all these issues in a democratic manner and involve citizens more, the European Parliament must first be strengthened. The elected members of the EU Parliament must be given the right of initiative and the right of taxation and finally be able to decide on the EU budget.

Subsidies for a sustainable Europe

In view of the critical situation in which the EU currently finds itself, it is necessary to give it every form of help, support and assistance (lat. subsidium) with which this Union can increasingly guarantee peaceful and good coexistence. However, the EU will certainly not achieve this peace by massively increasing funding for armaments – as planned in the draft budget for 2021 to 2027 – instead of investing more in civilian crisis prevention and peacebuilding, as Pax Christi and others are calling for.

Filling Europe, this model of a developing supranational democracy, with life is not only a task for the people’s representatives, but for everyone: the European citizens, the forces of civil society in all countries, regions, cities and municipalities. Sharing a common European destiny requires an awareness that extends beyond national borders. The aim is to make Europe more democratic and social and to fight climate change and species extinction together. The will to shape the future and courage are required, not least against internationally active corporations, for example when it comes to enforcing a European tax on financial transactions and minimum tax rules for digital companies to put an end to tax dumping. The fact that the EU Commission has already achieved a lot in terms of environmental, climate and transport legislation is an incentive on the way to a European energy transition.

As long as a democratically legitimized economic government is still a long way off, it must be assumed with Friedhelm Hengsbach that for the time being only a coordinated policy of the member states is realistic, which strives for environmentally friendly economic growth, a fair distribution of income and wealth, a high level of employment and stability in the price level of goods as well as an external economic balance.27

At the same time, initiatives must be taken and promoted that promote a democratically legitimized economic and political course, including regionally and locally, which are already oriented towards the goals of an economy for the common good28 . The European Economic and Social Committee even recommended such an economy in 2015 with 86% of committee members voting in favor. The goal stated in this resolution is “the transition to a European ethical market economy”.29 What exactly constitutes the common good is not clear from the outset and must be negotiated by civil society and those involved in the economic process; ultimately, this is the ongoing task of all Europeans.

Whether the politicians working in the European institutions can win back the lost trust of the citizens will depend on whether they actually realize the so often promised intensification of cooperation with countries, regions, cities and municipalities “in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity”. The litmus test for this will be whether they bring both components of the subsidiarity principle to bear jointly and appropriately.

The prohibition of withdrawal can indeed be used to defend against competences usurped by the EU. However, it cannot be used to arbitrarily reject Brussels decisions and certainly not to justify market-radical deregulation demands against state legislation for the common good. Above all, however, the prohibition of withdrawal can strengthen the regions and municipalities in their ability to develop independently and demand consultative participation.

The assistance requirement, the solidarity component of the principle of subsidiarity, must be taken into account to a much greater extent than in the past and implemented with concrete structural and practical measures. Regions, cities and municipalities must receive the help that enables them to act independently, with a focus on self-help and the common good. Last but not least, the assistance requirement also means that it must be assistance that primarily benefits and encourages those who have been excluded or disadvantaged by European Community programs in various respects.

In the current decision-making situation, the following applies to Europe in particular: “A just society is based on the two complementary principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. “30

    1 European Commission: Rome Declaration (25.3.2017), at: ‘https://europa.eu/european-union/file/22711/download_de?token=OuPX3Oup’.
    2 European Parliament: Eurobarometer, at: ‘http://www.europarl.europa.eu/germany/de/presse-veranstaltungen/eurobarometer-mai-2018’. The 79% in Germany is an increase of 8 percentage points compared to 2016 and 1 percentage point less than in 2017.
    3 Christian Geulen: On the “return” of nationalism – Essay. In: APUZ 48/2018, 4-8, 4.
    4 APA: Kurz wants “subsidiarity pact” for EU (22.9.2017), on: ‘https://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5290199/Kurz-will-Subsidiaritaetspakt-fuer-EU’.
    5 See German Bundestag: Drucksache 18/10230: Jahresgutachten 2016/2017 des Sachverständigenrates zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung, at: ‘https://archive.org/stream/ger-bt-drucksache-18-10230/1810230_djvu.txt’, Ch.4 and V. Outlook: 104 f.
    6 Wolfgang Ockenfels: How expensive is Europe? In: The New Order 6/2011, 403.
    7 Dominicans distance themselves from Wolfgang Ockenfels (July 25, 2018). In: New Ruhr Word.
    8 See Heribert Prantl: The CSU is learning French (29/30.12.2018). In: Süddeutsche Zeitung.
    9 Oswald von Nell-Breuning, in: H.W. Brockmann (ed.), Kirche in moderner Gesellschaft. Düsseldorf 1976, 63.
    10 EKD / DBK (eds.): Für eine Zukunft in Solidarität und Gerechtigkeit. Bonn and Hanover 1997, 48 f.
    11 Cf. Rosa Raffaelli for the European Parliament: Subsidiarity principle (no longer online as of 2017).
    12 Thomas Gutschker and Eckhart Lohse: Chancellor Merkel in conversation. “Europa muss handlungsfähig sein – nach außen und innen” (3.6.2018), in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung; at: ‘www.faz.net/-15619721’.
    13 Cf. Ulrike Guérot: “Europe, what’s wrong with you?” In: Stimmen der Zeit 141 (9/2016), 589-599.
    14 Cf. Friedhelm Hengsbach: “What’s wrong with you, Europe?” Frankfurt am Main 2017, 10 ff.
    15 Claus Leggewie: By-elections? The main thing! Europe faces a decision on direction. In: ApuZ 4-5/2019, 4-10.
    16 Cf. Young European Federalists: An uncertain future. The cohesion policy of the European Union after 2020 (26.7.2017), at: ‘https://www.treffpunkteuropa.de/eine-ungewisse-zukunft-die-kohasionspolitik-der-europaischen-union-nach’.
    17 Cf. Europa-Union Deutschland: Die EU auf der Grundlage des Vertrags von Lissabon weiter entwickeln (6.12.2009), at: ‘https://www.europa-union.de/politik/beschluesse/themenbereich-institutionelle-fragen/institutionelle-weiterentwicklung-der-eu’.
    18 Bettina Röder: Making Europe a joy. Europe is more divided than ever before, in: Publik-Forum 5/2017, 12-15.
    19 Cf. NRW Refugee Council: Cities’ offer to take in refugees “important signal” (28.7.2018), in: FAZ.
    20 European Commission: White Paper on the Future of Europe. The EU of 27 in 2025. Brussels 2017 and at: ‘www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/other/2017/6th_scenario_future_of_europe.pdf’.
    21 Cf. Gisela Müller-Brandeck-Bocquet: Debates on the future in the EU. In: ApuZ 04-05/2019, 19-25.
    22 All news on the topic of “Pulse of Europe” at: ‘https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/thema/pulse-of-europe’.
    23 Cf. Matthias Bieri: Separatism in the EU, in: CSS ETH Zurich 160 (9/2014), 1-4; and Ulrich Bielefeld: Europa. Vergesellschaftung jenseits des Nationalstaates, in: ApuZ, 14-15/2016, 40-45.
    24 Wilhelm Neurohr: Europe from below. Kulturelle Herausforderungen der europäischen Zivilgesellschaft (Lecture 28.9.2015), transcript at: ‘www.wilhelm-neurohr.de/aktuelles/8-november-vortrags-veroeffentlichung-europa-von-unten’.
    25 Cf. Ulrike Guérot: Forward, Europe! In: Publik-Forum 16/2017, 11-15.
    26 Cf. Mathias Greffrath: Who protects the poor? In: TAZ 16/17.9.2017, 9.
    27 Cf. Hengsbach (note 14), 24.
    28 Christian Felber: Economy for the common good. The economic model of the future. Vienna 2010.
    29 Cf. Ethics in the balance sheet: The European Union approaches the Economy for the Common Good. In: Publik-Forum 19/2015, 26.
    30 EKD / DBK (eds.): For a future in solidarity and justice. Bonn and Hanover 1997, 47.

    Josef Senft is a Christian social ethicist and associate professor in Würzburg.

Trapped conference?
By Bernd Hagenkord
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/4-2019/eingeklemmte-konferenz/.]

A conference between two cardinals: The presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences met in the Vatican at the end of February to discuss child protection and coming to terms with abuse. The aim was to create a common awareness in the world church, as was repeatedly heard beforehand. Anyone who followed the conference closely could not fail to notice progress in this area. Bishops from countries that had previously been quoted in the media with disparaging remarks about a “Western” problem spoke thoughtfully about the fact that perhaps we need to listen more carefully, even in our own culture. Even if the Catholic Church is a minority, perhaps even a persecuted minority, child protection must be a concern.

So far, the conference has really taken a step forward. But it remained wedged between two cardinals: Prior to the conference, Theodore McCarrick had been dismissed from the clergy, having already lost his cardinalate the previous year. The evidence was clear, in the USA such an abuser is called a predator. After the conference, the verdict against Cardinal George Pell, convicted in Australia, was added. While McCarrick’s trial was still a church trial, Pell found himself in prison immediately after a state criminal trial. The trepidation that always accompanied the conference could also be felt in Rome. The Vatican did not set the theme alone, on the contrary: the many representatives of groups that support victims and survivors who traveled to Rome and the many people who had been abused themselves held their own events. It is to the Vatican’s credit that there was no attempt to play it down. Its conference that weekend was just one of the events on the subject.

The emotional turmoil was considerable. And rightly so. It had taken too long and was taking too long, too much had been appeased. Too often looked the other way. The Catholic Church is in a deep crisis, it is no longer just about credibility as an organization that repeatedly speaks out on matters of morals and ethics. It’s a question of whether this church can somehow be associated with Jesus Christ.

As if that wasn’t enough public pressure at the conference, there was more: journalists in particular repeatedly asked whether Pope Francis’ pontificate had failed and whether his reforms were at an end. Interested parties tried to divert attention from the topic of abuse to the topic of homosexuality. And unfortunately, there were also gross errors in the reporting, which put many things at the conference in a strange light. It sounds all the more strange when, after the conference in the Vatican, many voices emphasize how important everything was. There were no concrete measures, because what the Vatican announced afterwards was already in preparation beforehand, such as a code of conduct for bishops and a solidarity network for local churches that cannot afford the necessary church lawyers, psychologists and processing structures. It was never the intention to pass resolutions during the conference. After all, the participants were like class representatives: Presidents of bishops’ conferences are not the bosses in their country. Guidelines for dealing with abuse and coming to terms with it, measures for prevention, cooperation with state authorities – all of this is far too dependent on local cultures and legal systems in the global church for there to be one big solution.

What was needed was the credible conviction of the Church that it would do everything to protect children and bring perpetrators to justice. What was also needed was the credible realization that beyond this specific issue, there are other forms of abuse of power in the church that need to be addressed. And soon. The conference worked on this. Has it succeeded? That will become clear in the coming months. There was often talk of participation by the non-clergy. One speech referred to “lay experts”; this formulation shows how ecclesiastical language and thus ecclesiastical thinking no longer fit reality at all. Real participation has often been promised. The church will have to be measured against this, and that locally, in the local churches.

There has been talk of a common conviction in the global church. We will see whether bishops will speak out again, claiming that the problem actually lies elsewhere, and whether these bishops will then be called to account. We will see whether consequences are drawn and whether those really responsible in the Church, above all bishops, have to answer for failures and omissions, up to and including loss of office. This will show whether the conference was a step forward, as the writer of these lines is cautiously convinced, or whether it remained stuck and was therefore just another conference among many, again just words.

    Bernd Hagenkord (1968-2021) was superior of the Jesuits in Munich and spiritual director of the “Synodal Path” of the Church in Germany.

Church in a post-secular context
By Christian M. Rutishauser
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/3-2019/kirche-im-postsaekularen-kontext/.]

European modernity thrives on the myth of secularization: progress is only possible if religion is overcome and the world is disenchanted. The future belongs to enlightenment and science; religion has no place. Even though religion is being pushed back worldwide and faith in science dominates, the classic secularization thesis has now been falsified. Secularization may mean de-Christianization and de-churchification, but religion remains. If we want to continue to speak of secularization, this should be understood as a process of pluralization, individualization and privatization of religion. Many areas that were once linked to the church, such as social welfare, medicine and art, have become independent. They are now supported by secular institutions.

Secularization is therefore also differentiation. It reminds us that the secular society has grown out of the church-based one. With its humanism, much of it is like “Christianity outside the church”. At the same time, secular society with its worldview is not just a substitute for religion, but is itself a kind of religious tradition that functions with its own rites, ethics and spirituality. However, in the face of globalization, digitalization and scientific development, secular society is just as much in flux, if not in crisis, as the church itself. This is why the frequently asked question of how religion has permanence in society falls far too short. The question of the constancy of the secular must also be asked. Where the church and secular, enlightened society were once hostile to each other, they are now sometimes partners.

The main dispute today is no longer about the question: religion yes or no? Rather, it is about which religion society wants. This can be seen from the fact that Asian spiritualities and forms of religion blend almost silently into society, while the presence of Islam is the subject of controversial debate. Individual, psychological and cosmological religiosity fits in with post-secular society. It is absorbed and stabilizes society. At the same time, it is increasingly permeated by Asian forms of thought and values. It is becoming less and less Christian. What used to be called “natural religion” is spreading. Islam, however, which claims to be politically and socially formative, assumes the revelation of a universal God and demands faith, is perceived as incompatible or even hostile.

This should come as a surprise, as its faith tradition has many similarities with Christianity and Judaism. What separates them is not so much faith as the fact that Islamic cultures have not been shaped by the differentiation process of secularization and the scientific education of modernity in the same way as the West. Islam is culturally similar to pre-modern Christianity. However, each of the three Abrahamic faith traditions does not want to dissolve into “natural religion”. All three are – albeit differently – in the midst of a struggle for their form in a postmodern world. It is not Islam that has to go through the Enlightenment, but all three are undergoing a comprehensive civilizational transformation. What position should the Church take in this process?

The Roman Catholic Church has always embraced man’s “natural religiosity”, his spiritual quest, but has then shaped it out of the faith tradition. The incarnational principle is the guiding principle here, as God became man in Christ. It means that the spirit of the Christian faith wants to leave its mark on human bodies, institutions and matter. The church is not only a spiritual community of all the baptized, but also a tangible legal institution. Faith is not just spiritualized inwardness. Salvation is accomplished in concrete rites and sacraments. The incarnational gesture has the strength that faith is inculturated and takes on a visible form. However, it also has the weakness that the spiritual can become externalized. The surge of rationalization, spiritualization and individualization have been fighting against this since Vatican II, but have also caused much of the tradition of the Catholic faith to disintegrate. This is why a new visibility and tangible community building is needed today. From a recognizable language of faith to an aesthetic in the institutions of the church. Living spaces must be permeated by the spirit of the Gospel in a tangible way. The careful organization of times of day and seasons also helps to create a space of faith in the deregulated hectic and excitement of everyday life. In short: the bodily, spatio-temporal dimension of man and society must be reshaped from the broad Christian spirituality tradition and from the center of the faith tradition.

    Christian Rutishauser, born in 1965, studied theology in Fribourg and Lyon and joined the Jesuit order in 1992. After a period as a student chaplain and ordination to the priesthood in 1998, he studied in Jerusalem and New York and completed a doctorate in Jewish Studies at the University of Lucerne. From 2001, he was Director of Education at Lassalle-Haus Bad Schönbrunn, a center for spirituality and interreligious dialogue. From 2012 to 2021 he was Provincial of the Swiss Jesuit Province; since then he has been Delegate for Universities of the Central European Province of the Jesuits.

Empathy instead of clericalism: opportunities and limits of external support in dealing with sexual abuse

The author, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy in Ulm, has supported the investigation of sexual abuse in the church from the very beginning. He reports on his ambivalent experiences and reflects on how the church should deal with the topic and, above all, with those affected.
By Jörg Fegert
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/3-2019/empathie-statt-klerikalismus-chancen-und-grenzen-externer-unterstuetzung-bei-der-auseinandersetzung-mit-sexuellem-missbrauch/.]

During my first week working in child and adolescent psychiatry in the early 1980s, I was confronted as a junior doctor with a girl who confided in me during her initial examination and reported sexual abuse. My senior physicians and the head physician had little to say about it, and I was asked to do a literature search and give a presentation on the topic at the hospital’s continuing education program. The topic of “sexual abuse and the consequences of trauma in children and adolescents” has never let go of me since then, even though I had enough of it at times. Today, my main contribution to the professional discourse in the healing professions is scientific work on this topic and my commitment to opportunities for participation for mentally stressed and traumatized children and adults.

As recently as the 1990s, the topic generally did not seem suitable for scientific development. I did my doctorate and habilitation on other topics and gave my first presentations for a professorship on other issues – denying, as it were, the subject close to my heart. Shortly after I took up my post as clinic director at the University of Rostock, I was commissioned to give a professional opinion on the question of “revoking the license to practice medicine” for a head physician. He was alleged to have abused children and adolescents entrusted to his care over a period of years. It was not possible for me to carry out this assignment without the cooperation of those affected, especially as several criminal proceedings had been discontinued in advance, among other things because the colleague had made such sensitive comments about the physical examination of children in a specialist publication. It was inconceivable for both the institution’s sponsor and the public prosecutor’s office that a respected head physician would have serially abused the children entrusted to his care. As there was no evidence of a criminal offense, I approached some of the now adult victims and asked them to undergo a credibility assessment for altruistic reasons, namely for the possible enforcement of guarantor obligations in medical treatment.

The expert opinion was close to my heart: it was about my profession, it was about a subtle colleague with musical interests. I met with a wall of silence from many of his former colleagues, whereas I was openly received by those affected. When his license to practice was withdrawn on the basis of my report, I received letters and threatening phone calls asking how I could damage a family man and colleague in this way. For the first time, the public prosecutor’s office did something that would have spared many of those affected an unnecessary assessment: they ordered a house search and a huge number of incriminating image documents were found. An indictment was prepared on the basis of this evidence. Incidentally, the accused, who could no longer work as a doctor, had started “volunteering” elsewhere as a soccer coach for children of his predilection age. He wrote me a desperate, reproachful letter accusing me of having turned him into a dead man walking. Shortly before the trial, he committed suicide. The case was discussed everywhere, I myself felt guilty again and again, but those affected were hardly ever mentioned in the debate, let alone given a chance to speak.

Professionally, we discussed ethical guidelines for physical examinations, even though it is completely clear what constitutes medical action and what constitutes sexual violence, about closeness and distance and the challenges in the psychotherapeutic doctor-patient relationship. It was about the perpetrator, about the profession, about the status, about the difficulties and seductions of being a therapist; quite simply, it was about us as victims of an overwhelming task, but not about the children entrusted to us. I am sending this biographical introduction in advance to show how difficult it is to keep the perspective of those affected in mind when a profession feels threatened. The defense mechanisms and denial in dealing with sexual abuse, as painfully revealed worldwide in the Catholic Church, are therefore not unique, but rather typical of the reaction of institutions that come under pressure. My expert and professional experience in dealing with sexual abuse in institutions was initially characterized by such incidents in my own field and in the medical professions.

Sexual abuse in institutions

That was all a long time ago. Later, I was able to better understand many things, such as the excellent certificates, despite the obvious unsuitability for the medical profession that had already become apparent at the Heidelberg training center. Today we know about the Heidelberg Psychotherapeutic Institute, the liaison care of the Odenwald School by the Heidelberg Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and much more about networks of confidants with distorted perceptions and tolerance for seemingly ingenious perpetrators, so-called “exemplary therapists with minor flaws”. While sexual abuse in the family has been discussed in Germany since the 1980s, perpetration in institutions was still taboo at the time. References to the events at the Odenwaldschule in an article in the Frankfurter Rundschau were actively ignored by the responsible supervisory authorities.

As part of a project funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), we succeeded in bringing together educational associations to discuss this issue. An interview with Hans Thiersch from Tübingen, who at least had the openness to talk about it, but later did not want the text to be printed, is indicative of the attitude at the time.1 As part of the project, there were numerous reports of cases from secular and church institutions, which were often resolved by removing the children concerned from the group and trying to avert damage to the institution by silencing those affected. I worked on two interdisciplinary projects in the “Law and Behavior” focus area of the Volkswagen Foundation: on the institutional treatment of affected children and on children’s rights to information and participation in medical treatment.

I had this previous clinical, expert and scientific experience in my luggage when I took up the chair of the newly founded Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Ulm, coming from Rostock. Even during the construction of the clinic, I paid attention to external complaint options, later to the integration of the patient advocate into a child-friendly complaints system, etc., because I wanted to use the new establishment of an institution to develop protection concepts – which were not officially called that at the time – that would have a preventative effect and strengthen children’s rights.

In all recruitment interviews, I discussed the particularly dangerous nature of the work and the specific responsibility and received a lot of encouragement from the new employees, who often reported on their experiences in institutions. Nevertheless, it took years for the staff council at Ulm University Hospital to agree to a corresponding annex to the employment contract.2 The usual arguments were used: “You can’t expose highly motivated employees in the nursing and education service and in the medical therapeutic area to general suspicion.” The weakening of employee rights was seen, the reputation of the institution was feared, and the guarantor obligations towards the patients entrusted to us were often denied.

Invitation to the Vatican

Friedemann Pfäfflin, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry and Director of the Training Institute for Psychotherapy in Ulm, asked me shortly after I took up my post in Ulm to give a lecture on the consequences of sexual abuse of children at a specialist conference in the Vatican. The event was organized by the then Director of the Pontifical Academy, Monsignor Sgreccia, with the active support and advice of the German psychiatrist Manfred Lütz. The reason for the conference was the abuse scandal in the Diocese of Boston, which is now known through the movie “Spotlight” (2015). It was my first fascinating professional contact with the Catholic Church. What a narcissistic temptation, what a confirmation that this neglected topic is finally being taken seriously!

At the same time, realism and doubt: why were world-leading researchers such as David Finkelhor not approached? Was it just a question of giving the church an alibi through a professional debate? The chance of recognition for the topic, curiosity about the situation and also politeness and gratitude towards my colleague made me agree. It was only at the Vatican that I realized the responsibility I had taken on, as I was the only one of the experts invited to speak about the suffering of the children affected and to say something about the consequences of abuse for children and young people. Once I arrived at the Vatican, the perceived pressure increased – fascinated and at the same time intimidated by art and historical power. As in the political world, people from the Vatican dicasteries tried to get to know the experts in order to assess whether they could be used for their arguments, and they tried to influence us in their favor.

Sexual morality: sin versus the informed consent paradigm

In the discussions, elderly cardinals asked what was worse about the sin of “sexual abuse of boys” than other sexual sins, since such assaults are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments. For the first time, the difficulties of a sexual morality for which all sexuality, except for procreative purposes within marriage, is sin, became clear to me. Many of those present were not immediately able to understand the problem of power and dependency relationships. The informed consent paradigm recognized in the Western world, which is also contained in all common definitions of sexual abuse, was not generally accepted: children cannot freely consent to such acts because they do not foresee the dimension of the acts. It was not about the exercise of power, responsibility and exploitation of dependents, but about sin. In my impression, there were only nuances, if any, between homophilia and ephebophilia in the assessment of many.

Several confused discussions were about how to protect the church from harm by recognizing gay men before ordination. Homosexuality was discussed as a background to ephebophilia. Sometimes I couldn’t shake off the suspicion that other problems and conflicts were being dealt with on the occasion of the abuse. Again and again, the focus was on the perpetrators: how can deserving clergymen who misbehaved be quietly secured, for example through positions as librarians? How can offenders be treated with the means of modern medicine? Even the possibilities of hormonal therapy, so-called “chemical castration”, was the subject of a separate lecture and discussion. It was repeatedly mentioned that perpetrators are not infrequently victims themselves. It was about the perpetrators, about the church, about the reputation of the church and the reaction of the church, especially in canon law, but explicitly not about cooperation with secular authorities such as public prosecutors and criminal courts and certainly not about the victims.

Canon law and the desire for transparent procedures

Canon law was the central point of contention. On the advice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II had introduced an obligation under canon law to report serious offences of sexual abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, thereby centralizing the processing of cases after the failure of local bishops, for example in Boston. However, this removed many files and documents from the reach of local investigators. Representatives of the Rota and the Congregation of Religious were outraged. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith probably had no idea of the extent of what these medieval court structures at an absolutist court, without sufficient staff and without processing statistics, were now supposed to deal with. For secular observers, it is hard to imagine that a jurisdiction would have to manage without statistics for such crucial issues. Effective monitoring of the implementation of procedures was completely ignored.

These inadequacies in case processing by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith contributed to the displeasure of many of those affected, who expected more transparency. The question of the position of those affected in canon law, i.e. the protection of victims under canon law, so to speak, was never an issue. The victims were witnesses, and it was a good idea to check the credibility of their testimonies. The practice of transfers or international relocations to undermine state criminal justice was not up for debate. It was about restrictions on the privileges of bishops and religious superiors and the central power of Rome, not about the functionality or appropriateness of procedures and certainly not about the involvement of lay people, except as forensic experts, but not in decision-making bodies. I was given the opportunity to say something about children and young people as victims on the last day of the conference.3

The German Bishops’ Conference also adopted guidelines following the conference. In contrast to pedagogical associations, an important institution reacted. That gave me hope. Many of those affected could have contacted the abuse commissioners of the dioceses at that time. But almost all of the measures adopted after the meeting in Rome did not really work, were not put into practice and were not comprehensively implemented in many places, and if they were, they were quickly forgotten.

After the so-called abuse scandal of 2010

At the beginning of 2010, Klaus Mertes SJ, the then director of the Canisius College in Berlin, took institutional responsibility. In Germany, this changed the media discussion about sexual abuse. In the sense of Michael King4 (1999), it was a case of moral agenda-setting through the scandal at a higher education institution. “In categories of agenda it is not individuals, but social systems which are being unjust to children.” As before, it was not the individual perpetrators who were at the forefront of the reporting, but the school as a supposed place of protection was accused, as was the church as an institution to which parents had entrusted their children not only for academic education, but also for the formation of their souls, and ultimately society, which was unable to guarantee the protection of children. In the Catholic Church in particular, there was a gulf between the high moral standards, the closed system of clericalism and the brutal reality of sexual exploitation. The fact that sexual violence occurred in an institution that had attracted attention in recent decades primarily due to its rigid sexual morals, which many people felt were outdated, exacerbated the scandal.

Under public pressure, the Catholic Church reacted relatively quickly and set up a hotline. Shortly afterwards, political pressure grew to such an extent that the German government set up a round table on child sexual abuse chaired by three ministers: Justice; Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth; Science and Research. The former Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Dr. Christine Bergmann, was appointed Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse. Immediately after her appointment, she commissioned me with the accompanying research and scientific support of her work, and so the establishment of a state contact point for those affected began. This was the broadest process of involvement of those affected to date, with over 20,000 calls, emails and letters.

It was remarkable that over 5,000 affected persons agreed to have their personal experiences analyzed in detail. They wanted their concerns to be heard and their testimonials to change the attitude of politicians and society. It was to be expected that different people would come forward: The Catholic hotline was expected to have more callers who wanted to sort things out with their church, whereas the state contact point had more who had finished with their church but wanted to denounce what was happening in the church and possibly also demand compensation. After many confidence-building measures, we were later able to compare the aggregated data sets; in general, this assumption was confirmed5.

However, quite a few of those disappointed by the church emphasized that spirituality and faith were an important resource for their survival. The descriptions of the deeds and the burdens experienced largely coincided. It was striking how many of those affected did not feel heard, perceived or understood by their church. It should be emphasized that some saw it as the church’s duty to look after them and help them find a way back into the faith community. Many others had “written off” the official church. On behalf of the Catholic Church in Germany, Bishop Ackermann from Trier, the appointed commissioner for abuse, affirmed his willingness to shed light: “We want to know what was suffered”. He was continuously present at the Round Table on Sexual Abuse in a difficult position and almost always signaled humility and the will to change. Other organizations such as the Protestant church or sport got away relatively unscathed in this debate, despite numerous victims from these areas contacting us6 .

After the abuse scandal at the Odenwaldschule was addressed, the discourse on sexual exploitation in educational institutions focused on the aspect of rigid Catholic institutions versus reformist educational institutions – many educators had assumed that abuse did not occur in modern participatory structures. They were proven wrong. Pedagogical historians such as Oelkers researched a history of abuse from the very beginning of reform pedagogy7. To put it simply: here, as there, there was the exclusive feeling of being something special, the desire not to endanger the institution threatened by society, the real problem of getting qualified staff, and a resulting web of personal dependencies, which formed the matrix of sexual exploitation in the institution here as there.

Differences in attitudes to corporal punishment and physical violence became clear, but the reasons for the secrecy still seem largely identical to me today. These reasons are also similar to the dynamics in families, where there is a fear of loss of reputation and the disintegration of the family, and where all too often affected children therefore find no support. The fact that those affected were heard for the first time in organized ombudsperson processes, following a scientific evaluation of thousands of reports and not just via certain exposed representatives of those affected, was new in dealing with the issue. It led to the first hearing of affected persons at the round table and later to the establishment of a council of affected persons and a commission, which still offers opportunities for hearings today and will probably be able to continue this work in the coming years following a cabinet decision (end of 2018). In research for the benefit of those affected, participatory approaches were increasingly discussed and the question was raised as to whether corresponding measures recommended at the round table, such as the creation of protection concepts, actually reach those affected.

Once again, it was the Catholic Church that responded relatively quickly with appropriate guidelines for protection concepts across the board and set a good example. Papers and regulations were drawn up in all dioceses. But trust remained shaken.

The Pontifical Gregorian University and the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising

At the Round Table on Child Sexual Abuse in Sub-Working Group III on Education, Research and Further Training, I met Hans Zollner SJ, who supported our idea of an e-learning program for professionals, because we wanted to create a common language and a common level of information for professionals from different professions on this hitherto mostly taboo subject. In one of the BMBF’s existing funding lines for vocational training, we finally succeeded in obtaining funding for this project and thousands of professionals have since been able to complete a certified course, which is equivalent to several weeks of further training with a final examination. After the successful establishment of this program, Father Zollner asked me if I could imagine creating a similar program for the Pontifical Gregorian University, based on the scientific content in our program, combined with basic theological knowledge. The Archdiocese of Munich-Freising and some donors were prepared to generously support the undertaking. We looked for a way to realize the project, and so on January 20, 2012, the Center for Child Protection of the Gregorian University was founded, initially in Munich as a cooperative project between the Gregorian University, the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising and the University of Ulm. An advisory board with secular and ecclesiastical experts, including Monsignor Scicluna from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, accompanied the project. The program had application sites in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe. Meetings were held annually with supporters and users from numerous countries.

The different learning cultures and the way in which the program dealt with its ecclesiastical origins were impressive. While in India, for example, rather rigid requirements were demanded for the implementation of the program and we were urgently asked to issue a university certificate, as a church certificate has little value or is even dangerous in some contexts, in Africa it was emphasized that the Gregorian University’s coat of arms alone has an incredible political significance. Religious sisters who are themselves exploited and abused could use it to show the perpetrators that this is wrong. In South America, where we had the most active and successful partner in Argentina with a Jesuit university, the rigidity of the program was again criticized and more openness was demanded. There were numerous suggestions for local cultural adaptations, which are absolutely essential, as prevention must be culturally sensitive. Following the successful completion of the project, a Center for Child Protection was actually established at the Gregoriana, thus initiating a process of continuation. This is remarkable because model projects all too often come to an end in silence after the model phase.

“Towards Healing and Renewal”

Under this title, a conference was held at the Gregoriana from February 6 to 9, 2012 with representatives of bishops’ conferences, for the first time with the participation of those affected – a major step that touched many of those present. Because the completely disorderly, unprofessional organization of the procedures and information flows between the dioceses of the world and the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was again noticed, transparent procedures were demanded. A church service was also held as part of this much-noticed conference – for me, this was an incisive experience, as in my view it showed the speechlessness and helplessness of the clergy and the instrumentalization of those affected. As the organizer of the e-learning programme, I had already noticed this speechlessness beforehand, as we had great difficulty finding high-profile authors, especially for the moral theology texts. As project manager, I had to state that the evaluation results for the texts and learning units in the e-learning program during the trial period were always significantly worse for these theological parts than for the secular learning content.

When I was struggling to find the authors for the program, I was aware of a lot of things that reached me emotionally at the moment of the service with those affected. From my point of view, inadequate visual metaphors, with a slide projection of atomic bomb images and other catastrophes, were intended to describe the misery of humanity after the fall of mankind and to make sexual abuse appear as one of many catastrophes. In this service, the victims were assigned a role that I felt was aimed at reconciliation far too early. They had no room for free texts. I felt that the church music was banal and not appropriate to the situation. The liturgy, with its pseudo-modern touches such as photo projection and naïve, contemporary choral music, became an expression of incrustation and speechlessness for me. Afterwards, Bach’s motto “The Spirit helps our weakness” kept running through my mind, especially the line “for we know not what we should pray”.

That’s exactly what it was: there was no theological stance on sexual abuse, they didn’t know what to pray. But instead of resorting to “inexpressible groans”, inadequate metaphors of annihilation were visually projected here. Is it ethically justifiable to portray those affected as the destroyed? The metaphor of “soul murder” may be used by those affected themselves – but anyone who wants to offer emotional support to those affected must convey hope of participation, of belonging. In my opinion, this applies to secular psychotherapists as well as pastoral counselors. What metaphors and images do we need to choose in this context? We have to struggle for an adequate expression of the recognition of suffering and the effort to enable participation. That evening in Rome, I got the impression that abuse is something that the Church has nothing to do with, that it has nothing to do with its very own reasons for faith. An inner compass was missing, which cannot be bought in from outside, but must arise from spiritual discourse.

Lack of inner compass and self-control

This lack of inner compass and a lack of intuition was evident in many things, including Prof. Pfeiffer’s hasty commitment following his spontaneous self-application for the German Bishops’ Conference’s file review project. After this project ended with a major media debacle, it once again seemed clear who was in the public eye. The second project award was then planned more thoroughly: An expert commission made its decision following a public tender on the basis of regular research proposals. The interdisciplinary MHG study was launched. As I was a member of both the awarding committee and the study’s scientific advisory board, I won’t write much about this. As part of the study, 38,156 personnel files from 27 German dioceses were indirectly evaluated, resulting in a total of 3677 cases on file. Yet time and again, what has long been recognized seems to slip away in everyday life; years after the initial decisions of the Bishops’ Conference and even after the shock in 2010, individual dioceses continued an unacceptable practice in dealing with the perpetrators – as the study had to clearly establish.8 It led to a renewed debate about the attitude in the Catholic Church towards sexual abuse. When the study was pre-published due to an indiscretion, I decided to publish study results from a representative survey in advance via a conversation with the FAZ,9 in order to prevent it being said later that the true dimension of the problem had now been recognized with the 3677 cases. The authors of the highly commendable MHG study are also very clear here, clearly pointing out the dark field and the remaining challenges.

It is therefore still important to finally establish transparent procedures for dealing with cases of sexual abuse in all dioceses. In the USA, under the impression of recent public investigations, the Bishops’ Conference wanted to involve more lay people in committees to clarify such cases; this was stopped for the time being by the papal nuncio.10 The FAZ put it succinctly: “The following applies to sexual abuse: bishops judge bishops. The Catholic Church in America wanted to change this. But it failed because of the Pope”.

Standardized and transparent procedures

Proceedings are always stressful, for both victims and perpetrators. In secular law, there have been debates over the last 30 years about the protection of victims in such proceedings and about specific victims’ rights, such as the right of accessory prosecution. As human fates depend on this, the time factor is important and must finally be taken into account. Instead of repeated apologies, uniform and transparent procedures with completion statistics and regular information on the results would be necessary to enable the public and the faithful to believe the mantra-like assurances of the church leaders. This can be accomplished with some thought, financial effort and proper prioritization, if only there is the will to reform procedures and implement what has been said at the highest level.

It seems to me that a greater challenge is not to regard abuse as an issue for external experts – for example in the forensic field – and commissioners, but to recognize it as an everyday form of widespread abuse of power in society and to find a theological response to it. Following the Millennium Development Goals, none of which were achieved, but which have led to an impressive improvement in the area of infant mortality, for example, the global community has now decided to push ahead with the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 16 is dedicated to justice and participation, while Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 aims to ensure that children grow up free from violence. One of the indicators defined by the global community is the frequency of experienced sexual assault reported by people between the ages of 18 and 28. According to our representative surveys, a broad definition of sexual abuse in Germany puts the frequency for this age group at well over 10 percent.11

Even if a relative decline in cases can be observed in the church compared to other institutions such as schools or sport, not least due to its dwindling importance in youth work and institutional care, there is no reason to sound the all-clear or to hope that prevention measures are already sufficiently effective. The data from the MHG study on unreported cases makes it clear that well over 100,000 people have experienced sexual abuse by priests in Germany. The Church must face up to this dimension and develop a credible response with transparent structures and the rectification of procedural shortcomings. The response cannot consist solely of regret, remorse and prevention. What do you say to those affected? How do you open doors for them, if they want to? What spiritual answers does the church have?

Just under a third of the German population report experiencing neglect and/or abuse as a child. Because of the consequences of violence and transgenerational vicious circles, which fortunately are broken by many of those affected through their own efforts, raising children without violence is an enormous social challenge. As part of this society, the church should make a contribution here with a specific, faith-based perspective. The Bible verse “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him soon chastises him” (Proverbs 13:24; Luther translation) has served generations of rigidly pious parents and educators to legitimize violence in the simple phrase “he who loves his child chastises him”.

A theological contribution, above all with the suffering of those affected, would be originally ecclesiastical. Raising awareness of the issue of abuse does not end with investing in prevention activities, protection concepts, commissions and commissioners, but all levels must be approached responsibly. It is an issue of faith and a leadership issue. Bishops and vicars general must make transparent decisions and involve people like those mentioned in such decisions. For example, the financial plan of an institution that does not take care of a protection concept for the children and young people entrusted to it raises considerable concerns and must not simply be waved through. The MHG study identifies conditions of origin such as clericalism. Credible answers are required here: Transparency, lay participation in procedures and some more. How the church deals with the weakest, i.e. those affected, is the best way to see whether the church has found an answer.

In a project at our hospital school, the children and young people treated and cared for by us formulated one of their central wishes for their lives: “to belong”. Mental suffering is often associated with social isolation, with impaired and strained partner relationships. In my view, the central task is to see those affected as belonging, to support them in belonging. Effective levels of participation are important. As a powerful provider of social institutions, the church should help to ensure that people who suffer from the sometimes massive psychological, physical and social consequences of early childhood stress are treated particularly well. This requires professional commitment, not just the correct signing of proposed guidelines. Church universities could invest even more in specific expertise and practical development here.
It is to be hoped that the church will be better able to meet these challenges in the future. Looking back on more than 15 years of professional external support and advice, I have to say that my general ambivalence has increased in recent years – despite many hope-generating personal contacts. In the long term, the church can only be helped from the outside by science if it seeks answers to these questions itself.

    1 Jörg Michael Fegert and Mechthild Wolff: Sexual abuse by professionals in institutions. Prevention and intervention. Münster 2002, 205-264.
    2 Cf. Jörg Michael Fegert: Prevention of abuse in institutions through deterrence vs. prevention through empowerment, in: Kind Jugend Gesellschaft 52 (4/2007), 99-103.
    3 Cf. Ders.: Consequences of Sexual Abuse of Children and Adolescents by Priests and Other Persons in Clerical Functions, in: Robert Karl Hanson, Friedemann Pfäfflin, Manfred Lütz (eds.): Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. Città del Vaticano 1999, 61-171.
    4 Cf. Michael King: Moral Agendas for children’s Welfare. London 1999.
    5 Cf. Nina Spröber et al: Child sexual abuse in religiously affiliated and secular institutions: a retrospective descriptive analysis of data provided by victims in a government-sponsored reappraisal program in Germany, in: BMC Public Health. Vol. 14 (2014), 1-12; Miriam Rassenhofer et al: Child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany: Comparison of victim-impact data collected through church-sponsored and government-sponsored programs, in: Child Abuse & Neglect 40 (2015), 60-67.
    6 See Jörg Michael Fegert et al. (eds.): Sexueller Kindesmissbrauch. Testimonies, messages, consequences. Results of the accompanying research for the contact point of the Independent Commissioner of the Federal Government for the Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse, Dr. Christine Bergmann. Weinheim 2013.
    7 Cf. Jürgen Oelkers: Eros and domination. The dark sides of reform pedagogy, Weinheim 2011.
    8 MHG study: ‘www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/diverse_downloads/dossiers_2018/MHG-Studie-gesamt.pdf’.
    9 Daniel Deckers: Was im Dunkeln bleibt (24.9.2018), in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2.
    10 Cf. Matthias Rüb: Selbstkontrolle im Weinberg des Herrn (28.12.2018), in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 5.
    11 Andreas Witt et al: Child maltreatment in Germany: prevalence rates in the general population, in: Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health. Vol. 11 (2017), 47.

    Prof. Dr. Jörg Michael Fegert is Medical Director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychotherapy at Ulm University Hospital. He conducts research in the field of sexual abuse of minors.


When moral standards become shameless: On the brazenness in sexual abuse and the clerical culture of guilt

Sexual violence by clerics is shameless, its concealment shameless. The clergy has discredited itself for making sexual moral announcements to the laity. Hans-Joachim Sander, Professor of Dogmatics in Salzburg, examines these contexts theologically and draws conclusions for the church.
By Hans-Joachim Sander
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/2-2019/wenn-moralischer-anspruch-schamlos-wird-von-der-unverschaemtheit-im-sexuellen-missbrauch-und-in-der-kirchlichen-schuldkultur/.]

The abuse study changes the overall image of the Catholic Church. The disgust at the facts is decisive. Instead of the communion of the Church, which differs significantly from secular communions, its integrity is now derived from cover-up tactics that have kept sexual abuse by priests under wraps and sought to hide it from victims. The result is no better when this is also found in other communities. People who believe in Catholicism are exposed to a dynamically progressing disillusionment, right up to top offices, and observers from outside are not letting up on the question of consequences. Everyone expects more from a church than the Catholic Church is currently able or willing to deliver.

This is even shown by the grand jury report in Pennsylvania on the abuse, which singles out the bishop from Erie.1 He changed his lawyers, who had recommended stonewalling, was the only bishop to face the grand jury in person and opened the archives beyond the subpoena compulsion: “We commend Bishop Persico for acknowledging past abuse, unmasking the abusers, and encouraging accountability. In his testimony we find hope. “2 All abuse reports worldwide reveal that the Church cannot go on like this. But does internal revulsion go hand in hand with this insight or does the unwillingness to deliver more stiffen?

The question arises despite respectable assurances from many officials, including the Pope, that they have understood the extent of the guilt and are ashamed. Actions such as those of the Pope in Chile are by no means a matter of course in the global Church, not even in Europe. The Church could also take a direction that can be observed in the presidency of the USA. Under pressure, one simply does the opposite of what others expect. After all, outrageous impossibility can easily be condensed into resentment, which may repel observers but has a powerful effect on certain supporters. This is how powerlessness can be covered up. It doesn’t help that the church is dealing with sexuality when it comes to abuse, which is actually a very flexible, intimate elixir of life that positively empowers people. At the same time, it can be used all too easily, both socially and existentially, to escape powerlessness, if only one does not stop at any impertinence towards others.

Those who consider this to be out of the question in the church are not sufficiently facing up to the harsh reality of sexual abuse by clerics. For decades, it occurred with precisely this breathtaking impudence because the perpetrators could be sure of impunity. Even those ecclesiastical leaders who were desperate to overcome the nightmare could not get beyond shameless cover-ups, what the Pennsylvania report calls “the circle of secrecy”.3 I believe it is imperative to address this complexity of shameless power and shameless powerlessness theologically, so that the described relapse into ostentatious self-righteousness does not occur.

Lack of complexity in the church’s self-reference

The church cannot sit out the abuse with the noble idea of being out of date and thus isolate the blame with the perpetrators. It is compelled to recognize that it is “a single complex reality, made up of human and divine elements” (Lumen Gentium 8). Of course, the Second Vatican Council did not even begin to think about localizing this in sexual abuse – although quite a few Council Fathers had to struggle with this in their dioceses. To this day, the church leadership does not adequately deal with the abysses of the church’s complexity because it follows outdated rather than complex standards. But being out of date does not justify abuse.

Actionism is also no help in erasing the scars of abuse. In saying this, I do not want to deny any of the efforts to ensure decisive prevention, victim compensation and the recognition of blind spots. These are important, but different issues. A theological reappraisal must face up to how clearly the reports expose an inner-church dictatorship of relativism about abuse. Their shamelessness plunges the church into the beginning of a deep humiliation.

The abuse did not, after all, descend upon the Church as a September 11th, as a Roman archbishop recently suggested. That is the wrong metaphor. The integrity of the Church was not attacked from the outside; structural parts of it collapsed of their own accord, as with the damned bridge in Genoa. As a church, we cannot call for solidarity because we are under attack, but are faced with the gray on gray of self-inflicted rubble. The reassuring metaphor that we can actually do better does not help. Instead, sobering metonymies are called for, i.e. making contact with the already tangible power of what is happening.

One such metonymy can be found in the first finding of the MHG study: “There were indications of accusations of sexual abuse of minors among 1670 clerics of the Catholic Church. This was 4.4% of all clergy from the years 1946 to 2014, of whom personal files and other documents in the dioceses were reviewed. This figure represents a lower estimate; the actual figure is higher based on the findings from dark field research. “4 The “lower estimate” qualifies the shambles in which the Church must now deal with sexuality.

It is taking bitter revenge for having used denying metaphors for generations to keep a slim foot on power and sexuality. For example, a controversial appointment of an archbishop in Cologne once defended that there is no power in the church, only authority. And the World Catechism actually states that sexuality essentially concerns the ability to “form bonds of communion with others” (No. 2332). The victims of abuse can truly sing a lifelong sad song about these bonds. Such unsuitable metaphors merely reduce complexity, while metonymies such as the lower estimate increase it. This is now sorely needed.

The church’s self-image of being a salutary moral authority for secular societies in need and a warning voice for individual consciences in need is proving to be a self-deception that is neither compatible with the actual questions of how to use the explosive energy source of sexuality in a humane way, nor does it come close to the level of demands for the required answers. Both are now in black and white on hundreds of pages. The Catholic Church shows itself to be morally corrupt. For decades, it has given room to this corruption when it believed that by talking down and covering up sexual crimes committed by clerics it would be able to control them in the long term. Comparisons with other institutions in which abuse and zealous cover-ups take place are not only out of the question due to the extent of the abuse. In no other abusive organization, nor in any family context plagued by abuse, is a claim to moral superiority made like in the Catholic Church. Its association with abuse is its Catholic hallmark.

It does not only affect the perpetrators. It affects everyone in the church, especially those in the clergy who suspected something but did not act on it, even though it repelled them. It also affects the clergy and laity who were objectively unaware and blameless. This is hopefully still the majority, but no majority can help here. A stigmatization that is difficult to bear, but not ludicrous, occurs for everyone. It results neither from anti-clerical exuberance nor from panic within the church, but from the shamelessness with which the high moral standards of perpetrators and cover-ups were ignored. The higher its level of representation, the more the hierarchy of the church is depressed by this. After all, it has defended Catholic sexual morality against all doubt across the country, but in doing so has neither blocked decades of abuse, nor prevented widespread concealment, nor promoted a reappraisal. This sermon proves to be a pure discourse to qualify others, which is not particularly significant for one’s own standards. It is urgently necessary to plumb this abyss.

In 1988, John Paul II claimed in front of assembled moral theologians that the Church’s sexual doctrine “is not a doctrine invented by man: rather, it was inscribed in the nature of the human person by the creative hand of God and confirmed by him in revelation. “5 The bar for a doctrine can hardly be set any higher. It was above all those who, from a Catholic point of view, were not allowed to avoid practicing sexuality, i.e. lay people living in a Catholic marriage, who had to orient themselves to this awe-inspiring height. For the doctrine, sexuality belongs in marriage because it opens it up in principle for the procreation of children. So far, so well known and so little disputed here. That is not the point now.

The binary order of the discourse

We are now concerned with the order of the moral discursivization of sexuality and thus with the Church’s self-execution. In Catholic morality, sexuality is not simply negotiated morally and philosophically in terms of good and evil, but rather socially announced with verve as to what should and should not be done. Such discourses inevitably have a disciplinary agenda, behind which there are powerful approaches. They always appear with a normalizing order and this claim is at stake in the face of abuse. Theologically, it is not enough to analyze the truths taught by the church; you have to take a closer look at its announcements. The MHG study, the grand jury report in Pennsylvania and the Royal Commission in Australia, as well as the relevant reports in Ireland on Magdalene Laundries and Industrial Schools, have shown its intentions for order to be ambiguous and bigoted. I have no business getting involved in substantive questions of moral theology, how, when, why sexual practices are moral or a-moral. I stick to the dogmatic performance of the disciplinary modality of sexual morality. It follows the binary coding of clergy and laity. I am not trying to personalize conflicts of status; that would be absurd. I want to name the discursivization of a structural problem.

It is a matter for the laity to fill Catholic sexual morality with life, while its instructive discursivization is a service of the clergy (especially bishops and popes) to the sexually practicing people in the Church and in humanity as a whole. This formality is now slipping away so much that there may be little left in the long run. Catholic sexual morality has fallen under the spell of the black hole that is sexual abuse. It remains to be seen which of its substantive positions are already beyond the horizon, beyond which nothing escapes falling into its gravity. But who in the Church can blame people for shrugging their shoulders when they are exposed to one of her moral pronouncements? Who can expect open ears or at least obdurate annoyance instead of waving goodbye when the church comes forward with controversial demands on sexuality? It is not a question of a lack of goodwill or ignorance. It is simply that the church has made itself irrelevant to the thriving orientation of power and sexuality. It has taken the axe to its own authority because it lacks self-assertion.

It has become obvious how much the high bar of standards applies to the laity, but not to the clergy. They could not break the bar because it was not set for their way of life. This is part of the celibacy part of sexual abuse. Celibacy is not its cause, but it is entangled in its origin. It would be wrong to construct a cause-and-effect relationship from celibacy. Celibate people do not necessarily become abusers any more than non-celibate people do not. But the order of the celibacy discourse leads to a principled opposition between clerics, who live it admiringly, and other people, whom it overwhelms. This in turn leads to the fiction that priests are superior to the power of sexuality because of their celibacy. This discourse does not deny that priests are also touched by sexual desire. But it is taken for granted that they are above the power of it. From there, it is not far to assume that they could tame the power of sexuality at any time in the desirous assault on children and young people. This fiction probably also led to clerics being granted far more than the usual presumption of innocence, even in cases of serious suspicion.

Rebounding gains in distinction

The resistance of laypeople to the moral pronouncements of clerics even reinforces the illusion of a position of superiority. It releases the exciting potential of that encroaching habitus that Catholic sexual morality must be proclaimed precisely against the inner resistance of those who want to evade its grasp. After all, it is about truth and not just acceptance. Moral power is used unashamedly here, and yet this characterizes the tactic of Catholic sexual discourse of accessing bodies, which are always those of others, for the sake of the higher truth. Of course, this access was intended to be spiritual, but it has been proven that it did not stop there.

The gains in distinction, which the spiritual admonition never achieved, are now coming crashing down on the church as a boomerang of a massive loss of credibility. That is why the consequences of abuse are incomparably more serious than the disregard for moral teachings that has spread among the so-called people of the Church since Humanae Vitae. This took place in silence. Now, however, the Church is experiencing at first hand the silence that sets in in the narrative of Jesus and the sinner, which is relevant for moral access, when it says: “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). This no longer stands for a spiritual imperative against misguided positions. The church is embarrassed by this, as are the elders there.

The circle of concealment of undeniable deeds, which was apparently practiced almost everywhere, had a much lower level than the preservation of the church’s ability to act. It was fueled by the shamelessness of always holding reprehensible things up to others. This shamelessness occurs not least in the combination of confessional practice and abuse, which the research group of the MHG study cautiously addresses: “Accused clerics often see confession as an opportunity to reveal their own abuse offenses. In some cases, the protected area of confession has even been used by clerical defendants to initiate or conceal crimes. “6 A confession that is safe from secrecy and the circle of secrecy are carved from the same wood of shameless power. But it is itself concealed in the order of sexual murder discourse. The disciplined concealment of this self-importance has now become an abyss of ecclesiastical impotence. This can understandably make those church leaders who are innocent of it angry, but unfortunately this is no way out.

In sexual abuse, clerics have not simply sinned, but have behaved shamelessly. Shamelessness results in an energy not to admit even obvious guilt and, as in the case of the former Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Groer, to stubbornly persevere for the rest of his life. Shamelessness also promotes the mythification of abuse as a choice for minors in particular need of pastoral care.

Power and powerlessness

The power of clericalism has become the standard explanation for guilt since the Pope’s letter to the people of God before the visit to Ireland. But it is much more complex than the category of “abuse” suggests. The problem already arises in the use of power, which lies in the discursivization of sexuality. Those with the power to define the abnormal naturally transfer shame onto others. In abuse, this power mutates into the impertinence of an assault that leaves the shame with the victim and intensifies it.

Expelling clericalism alone cannot overcome this; it already suffers from the fact that it makes the perpetrators the decisive figures in dealing with abuse. They are not. But their deeds are good for exposing the ecclesiastical results of their shamelessness. The abnormality that creates the order of the sexual morality discourse has only others, the laity, to be ashamed of. And that opens the door to assault. This can easily be seen in the alternative explanation to clericalism that the abuse results from the proportion of gay men in the clergy, as well as in the attention to detail in neo-Scholastic moral manuals about what is specifically required and decidedly forbidden in marital-sexual terms. The first is shameless towards priests who are aware of their homosexual inclinations and shameless towards victims who are now being used as cheap scapegoats. The second seems like explosive clips in the head before the all-availability of obscene images. The problem behind both is a habit of excusing shamelessness for a higher cause.

Shamelessness in a culture of guilt

A structurally relevant difference emerges here. While sin is associated with the guilt of an act, shamelessness is associated with the power of a moral claim. The church tradition is particularly adapted to sin. In the Latin Western Church, there has been a broad stream of theological approaches to it since Augustine. In their discourse, there are many lay sins relating to sexuality, while clerical sins relate primarily to spiritual matters. The abuse shows how under-complex this is. When it comes to sexuality, there are clerical sins that trigger dangerous spiritual destruction in the victims. What else is a victim supposed to believe, since the contents of their faith are spiritually directly linked to the perpetrator? And even in the cases of perpetrators who understand their guilt and apologize credibly, the shame remains with the victims, often for the rest of their lives.

The under-complex relationship of sexual morality to assaultive claims of guilt opens the door to the shamelessness of the act of abuse; because the focus on guilt ignores this shamelessness. While shame is embarrassed to consider one’s own entanglement, guilt can always be triumphed over with the knowledge of the truth of what sin is. This is where the difference between guilt culture and shame culture comes into play, a debate that Ruth Benedict opened a good 70 years ago.7 It remains controversial to this day. Whatever the outcome of the intellectual dispute as to whether such different pure cultures can actually exist, sexual abuse by clerics is characterized by a mixture of both forms of powerlessness. A culture of guilt is at work in sexual morality because it is focused on the misconduct of others, namely the laity. Not only does it not allow people to stay away from the reserved intimate areas of others, but it also offers more or less full-bodied excuse tactics for penetrating precisely there. After all, it threatens the loss of salvation.

This culture of guilt is now discredited because a cultivation of shamelessness was at work in the processing practices of abuse. The priestly perpetrators were spared the public shame of their actions. They were simply shamelessly transferred and a circle of secrecy was shamefully established. The ecclesiastical culture of guilt lacks more than a balanced culture of shame. One cannot help but assume that the church is infected by a culture of shamelessness: simply transferring perpetrators, not compensating victims adequately and looking for scapegoats among disagreeable homosexual clerics.

Dealing with the abuse will have to address this culture of impudence. Shameless access increases power, which is what abuse is characterized by. The order of sexual morality discourse is entangled in this impudence. It is a rocky road to change this. But a culture of shame will not emerge in the church without it. This means greater secrecy and speaking up at the same time.
The Catholic Church will have to become decidedly more secretive about the intimate use of partnered sexuality as long as its authority on moral issues is so self-inflicted. At the same time, it will have to speak more loudly, in both senses of the word, about shamelessness in moral assault. It exercises spiritual violence, no matter how pastorally endeavored and spiritually considered it may appear. It is inevitable to be publicly contrite about this. Silence and contrition can last a long time. But they are among the best things the church currently has at its disposal.

    1 See also Thomas Schärtl: American nightmare. The perfidious interpretation of abuse, in: Stimmen der Zeit 143 (10/2018), 753-768.
    2 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. Report 1. Interim-Redacted. Pennsylvania 2018, 305.
    3 Ibid. 297-300.
    4 Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male members of religious orders in the area of the German Bishops’ Conference. Project report of the research consortium. Mannheim, Heidelberg, Gießen, September 24, 2018, 5 (= MHG study).
    5 Speech of 12.11.1988; ‘w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/it/speeches/1988/november/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19881112_teologia-morale.html’.
    6 MHG study (note 4), 17.
    7 Ruth Benedict: Chrysanthemum and sword. Forms of Japanese culture. Translated from the English by Jobst-Mathias Spannagel. Frankfurt am Main 42014.

    Hans-Joachim Sander, born 1959, Dr. theol., Professor of Dogmatics at the University of Salzburg. He was Dean of the Faculty of Theology from 2006 to 2007.

Spiritual abuse: theological notes

When power is abused in spiritual communities and religious orders: In addition to sexual abuse, “spiritual abuse” is also a serious problem not only, but also in the church environment. Klaus Mertes SJ looks at the theological background and abysses that open up when people claim to be able to recognize and tell other people what God wants from them. At the heart of spiritual abuse is the suspension of the ethical by the religious, through which totalitarian claims are legitimized.
By Klaus Mertes
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/2-2019/geistlicher-missbrauch-theologische-anmerkungen/.]

The term “clerical abuse” is increasingly making the rounds in discussions within the church. The term is open to debate, but it has become widely accepted due to its concise brevity, comparable to the equally misleading term “sexual abuse”. Put simply, it refers to the abuse of spiritual power, or more precisely: the confusion of spiritual persons with the voice of God. This applies both to relationships of spiritual guidance, including confession, and to the relationship between ecclesiastical superiors and persons who have vowed spiritual obedience to them.

Three variants of confusion are possible: First, in the language of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: The person who “takes the exercises” (the soul) confuses the person who “gives the exercises” (the spiritual director) with the voice of God. Secondly, the spiritual director confuses himself with the voice of God. Thirdly, both are subject to the same confusion at the same time. In the first case, it is the soul guide’s responsibility to see through the temptation inherent in the confusion for him as a soul guide and to clarify the confusion. In the second case, I recommend that the soul breaks off the relationship, and does so immediately: the attempt to justify the break-off or to clarify the confusion through dialog cannot work as long as the asymmetry in the spiritual relationship exists; feelings of guilt because of the break-off of the relationship are to be seen as temptations. The third case is the most difficult to resolve: Interventions from the outside are only partially effective, especially since the delusion in the inner area of the spiritual relationship is not easy to see through from the outside precisely because of its dual character; the black box cannot be opened from the outside unless a “traitor” comes forward from the inside at the same time.

The effects of spiritual abuse are devastating for those affected and leave a wound that hurts for a lifetime. Outsiders sometimes cannot imagine how childlike the trust is with which young adults allow themselves to be invited to follow Jesus, and how much they are committed to this call – for example, when after an inspiring church service the preacher at the front calls out: “Which of you now feels a call to the priesthood or religious life? ” and they raise their arms enthusiastically; or when retreats are used to break a young woman out of an engagement for the sake of a supposed “greater commitment”; or when a priest tells a young man that he senses that the same young man “has a vocation” and that because he is a priest he can judge this better than the young man himself.

It is all the more painful for those affected when the call to follow Jesus subsequently turns out to be the call of someone completely different. One affected woman writes:1

“At the age of 19, I became a sister of the religious community XY. I hoped to consecrate my life to the Lord, but instead they took my life. During the eight years that I was part of that community, they cut me off from my family, from the other members of the community and from the world. And even more seriously, they cut me off from myself. Spiritual education told me to distrust my own mind and my own feelings. Spiritual direction and the sacrament of confession were tools of surveillance, humiliation and manipulation in the hands of superiors. I could not freely choose my confessor; instead, my superior determined which priest I had to confess to. Furthermore, the secrecy of confession was not respected. Things I said to the confessor were made known to my superior and she used them for my “education”. Forum internum and forum externum were not separated, on the contrary. Even worse: two superior priests sexually harassed me …”

This is followed by an account of the sexualized violence and the continuation of the spiritual abuse when the young woman turns to those responsible in the community. After leaving the religious community, the long story of a rudimentary reappraisal follows, which ultimately fails due to trivialization and cover-up strategies, as recently described in the MHG study of the German Bishops’ Conference. The report ends with the following words:

“From a young age, I loved the church very much. I felt at home in the church. Now the church no longer seems to me to be my home, but much more a den of thieves (Luke 19), a place from which it is better to stay away. Please do not allow it to be so! Help us to feel a little more at home in the church again!”

The last sentence is important: those affected by spiritual abuse in particular have a great desire to feel at home in the church again. This is confirmed by the MHG study for those affected by sexual abuse in the church. This results in a task. In order to do justice to it, a theological examination of the experiences and questions of those affected is necessary, precisely because the entire ecclesiastical-spiritual language is contaminated by the abuse; it served as a trap into which those affected fell with confidence. Here are some key terms in church language that can be contaminated by abuse:

 “devotion” – in X’s spiritual community, the equation was: happiness is acquired through unconditional devotion. Devotion in turn meant: willingly doing what you were told to do, ultimately: unconditional obedience.

“Betrayal/guilt” – The last chapter of the Constitutions of Y’s Order deals with leaving the community. It begins with paragraphs warning the members against unfaithfulness and referring to Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal. On leaving the community, the confessor told Y that she had forfeited her happiness in life. After leaving, she underwent therapy, sought out a qualified spiritual counselor and got married. Many years later, she lost her child in the middle of her pregnancy. The confessor’s words came back to her. He had been right: She was guilty before God and could never be happy again.

“Redemption” – a prayer in a spiritual community, which was prayed once a week after the midday service, reads: “From the desire to be loved, deliver me, O Jesus. From the desire to be recognized, deliver me, O Jesus. From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus. From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Jesus. From the fear of being insulted, deliver me, O Jesus.” Do we need to be “delivered” from these fears, or rather needs? In any case, this qualifies them negatively.

 “Cross” – Z lived in a community for ten years. He had to work day and night, never had any free time, all his communication was controlled, he was not allowed to have any personal contact, and all this out of love for the divine heart of Jesus, which was being so badly hurt by the people of our time and needed the love and tireless work of the religious so that this suffering could be made good. One day, Z looked at the tabernacle and said quite simply: “Lord Jesus, I also have a heart.” He left the community, gave up religious life and got married.

Victims of spiritual abuse have theological questions. They are looking for an answer from and in the church. A theology that fobs them off with formulas once again lets those affected down. Fobbing off – as in the following example, the answer from a higher church authority – sounds like this:

“With some delay, I confirm receipt of your letter together with the enclosed documentation. You need not worry; I will of course treat the matter confidentially. Let me just say this much: your certainly very painful and confusing experiences are offset by very positive testimonials about the community. It is therefore impossible to arrive at a fair assessment without differentiation. I thank you for your faithful love for the Church, which you express in your letter. At the same time, I encourage you to persevere in this good attitude towards all members of the Church – despite all negative experiences. With my very best wishes for the forthcoming celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord …”

 Or to quote another example of a defensive response, which is rightly experienced by those affected as defensiveness and rejection, even if the writer intends the opposite:

” … For yourself, it seems to me that the most important thing is that you go about your life with confidence. Sometimes things turn out the way you didn’t expect them to. Sometimes it is not easy to understand (or not understand at all) why things have turned out this way. In any case, we simply have to turn to God again, be ready to fulfill his will and do what is possible. The right thing will come out of it … I pray for you and hope that you are in good spirits.”

The great theological seriousness that is overlooked in such answers is this: spiritual abuse is a violation of the First Commandment. The name of God, or also: the name of Jesus, is misused to gain power over people; to exploit them as labor and use them for other purposes, as staffage at major events, for the purpose of narcissistic self-gratification, and so on. Especially in the case of sexual abuse in a spiritual context, there is a danger of interpreting the sexual aspect of the abuse merely as a violation of the sixth commandment. However, spiritual abuse, whether sexual or otherwise, is not about the sixth commandment, but about the first commandment. The theological discourse of the Bible and the church is being misused. In order to get out of this abuse, we need to talk anew about its proper use.

Discernment of spirits

Spiritual abuse does not only occur in a Christian context. Cases of abuse in Zen monasteries have recently come to light. Sogyal Rimpoche (“Rimpoche” means “venerable one”), author of “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, was exposed;2 an inhumane system of psychological and material dependencies surrounding the spiritual despot came to light. The Dalai Lama had to publicly distance himself from Sogyal. I myself first encountered the phenomenon of spiritual abuse at the end of the 1970s when the brother of a school friend was recruited by the Moon sect (“Unification Church”). This was the first time I was deeply shocked by the fact that and how a young person falls for an alleged “messiah” who, with this claim, assumes totalitarian control over his followers, with the actual consent of those being controlled – however one may assess this consent.3

The comparison with the Zen master helps to define the asymmetrical element in relationships of spiritual accompaniment more precisely. The master provides the method. Ignatius formulates for the “magister”: “He who gives the exercises.” Method is an essential part of practice. In Zen meditation, the strictness of the prescribed method is clear – which is precisely why it attracts many seekers. Anyone who wants to enter into a relationship with the master must adapt to the prescribed method. The methodical rigor makes clear the seriousness of what is at stake: finding the path to enlightenment. Ignatius also points out how important it is to adhere strictly to the exercises and the practice times. If the person practicing receives consolation during the exercise, they should not prolong the exercise (“because it is so beautiful”); if they receive desolation, they should not shorten it (“because it is so laborious”). The retreatant does not find “God in all things” right from the start. He begins a path. How this search can gain direction, and how the finding really leads to God and not to a supposed God, is precisely what is to be learned.

“The supposed God”: It is about the “discernment of spirits”. The “evil enemy of the human soul” is a perpetrator of abuse. Nothing is sacred to him. He instrumentalizes everything in order to subjugate the soul. His actual clumsy trick is that he does not act openly. He does not approach the soul with the motto: “Good day, I am the evil enemy of the human soul”; rather, he says: “I am God”, or: “I will bring you to God.” We come across the original theme of the paradise narrative.4 Despite the crudeness of his basic intention, the “anti-god” is cunningly clever, just as the serpent is “clever” (Gen 3:1). Because he knows no shame, he can appropriate everything and twist everything that is sacred to the soul, including theological speech.

His clumsy binary logic (“I or God”) and his if-then constructions (also: Jesus’ temptation in the desert, Luke 4:1-13) are preceded by complex games of confusion, such as the clever question in Genesis 3:2: “Did God really say that you may not eat from all the trees of the garden?” The tricks are not easy for the untrained person to see through, because the soul is precisely concerned with the search for God. It is open to being approached by the “spirits”. But how do I recognize the presence of God and his spirit? And how do I distinguish it from the presence of someone who merely pretends to be God himself or a messenger of God (2 Cor 11:14)? This is precisely the question addressed in the “discernment of spirits”.

Dealing with spiritual abuse leads to the insight that all “spiritual exercises” worthy of the name are and must first and foremost be about the question of God – and not first and foremost about “health and illness, poverty and wealth “5 and other “indifferent” concerns in the sense of Ignatius. The retreat can also become a path of healing, but it is not entered into because of the healing, but because of the search for God. It may be that a person finds God and yet remains ill and challenged – like Paul, for example (cf. 2 Cor 12:7ff). In any case, Ignatius assumes that the “inner movements” (mociones, spiritus) in the hearts or souls of people come from God, or if not from God, then from the “evil enemy of the human soul”.

Ignatius uses strictly religious language. The question of God is his formal object with regard to the movements of the soul in man. The formal object can be changed. Then one looks at the temptations from a psychological or other human or social science perspective. However, this does not address the phenomenon of spiritual abuse, insofar as it is a problem for theology.

In dealing with spiritual abuse, I therefore advocate a “spiritual” theology, i.e. a theology that understands and reflects on personal experiences as a locus theologicus (theological place) – not separate from Scripture and tradition, but not reduced to them either. The classical via negationis seems to me to be appropriate for such a theology: talking about God begins with talking about what he is not. In the rules for the “discernment of spirits”, this corresponds to the goal of seeing through temptations as such and rejecting them.6 There is no knowledge of God without a constant struggle for this very knowledge, precisely because it can always be instrumentalized by the “evil enemy” for the opposite. Spiritual abuse systems, on the other hand, are recognizable by their seductive positivity.

Theology versus ideology

A man who freed himself from the clutches of an internal church abuse system with the help of a wise nun reported to me that his companion occasionally asked him in amazement: “And you believed all that?” The abuse system contained the whole program, both in its tempting side (feeling of security, closeness to a charismatic leader, belonging to an elite, high esteem by the church hierarchy, intensive liturgy) and in its dark side (break with the family, control of outside contacts, bans on criticism and speech, radical world-church dualism, pressure of guilt, disclosure of confidential personal information, instrumentalization of confession), and finally also with the typical phenomena during the detachment phase: Accusations of betrayal, bullying, breaking off contact and slander thrown at them, right up to attempts to torpedo their further professional future.

From the outside, it is sometimes difficult to understand how ideology formation actually works. On the one hand, a lot of learned and correct things are said. On the other hand, the inner culmination point that everything boils down to is the demand for an empty act of submission to authority, according to the motto: “Authority is always right, even when it is not.” This is nothing other than a variant of the question of power posed to Jesus in the desert: “I will give you all these things if you always say yes and amen to everything that comes from me” (cf. Luke 4:6 f.) It is not about content, but about submission. Those affected often ask themselves afterwards how it was possible, for example, that they willfully and knowingly denied and slandered and that they thought these lies were pious deeds. This has to do with the emptiness of the question of power. According to the argument, those in higher office are also allowed to lie. In his letter Gaudete et exultate, Pope Francis refers to comparable phenomena in relation to Catholic bubble formations on the internet.7 The lack of shame in dealing with the truth is a characteristic of the un-spirit that reigns in authoritarian groups and bubbles.

One could also say that the “evil enemy” works with a strictly nominalistic concept of God. Spiritual abuse in the Catholic Church is, so to speak, Kierkegaard in Catholic form: the suspension of the ethical by the religious.8 It is about the act of subjugation as such – empty of content, precisely not rationally communicable. Any rational mediation and mediability would disturb the purity of the act of submission. An example:

“A. was allowed to spend a few days of home leave with her parents every year. One year she had a conversation with her brother during this stay. He confided in her that he was homosexual. A. was shocked and pointed out the ‘teachings of the church’ to him, but at the same time expressed that she respected him as a person and that this did not change their relationship. Her brother urged her not to tell their father about it. They both knew how difficult it would be for the father to accept his son’s homosexuality. They had to wait for a favorable moment when their son could reveal himself to his father. A. made him this promise. She realized how tricky coming out would be. As soon as she got back, she had to report to her superior about her home leave. A. was used to this and told her everything, including the conversation with her brother. Her superior then demanded that she sit down on the spot, write a letter to her father and inform him of his son’s homosexuality. When she asked why and what for, she was only told that she had to do this in obedience, because she had vowed obedience. Although it turned her heart and made her so sick that she had to vomit, although she felt like she was betraying her brother, A obeyed. Her relationship with her brother and her family was severely strained for years as a result. Above all, however, she suffered from having betrayed her brother and broken a promise. But the moment the superior forced her to write the letter, she saw no way out. She believed she was bound by the vow of obedience.”

This suspension of the ethical by the religious is also a possible explanation for why so many authoritarian groups repeatedly break the seal of confession. The reasoning is: if it is God’s will, it is also permissible to break the seal of confession.

The “evil enemy” does not stop at the instrumentalization of the Church’s magisterium. An understanding of the magisterium that bases the truth of the content of the teaching on the authority of the ministry – or, in the case of the cases in question, on the authority of the ministry alone – is particularly helpful in this respect. By pretending to be particularly faithful to the magisterium, the tempter deceives the ecclesial public. He also has no problem claiming that he is more faithful to the magisterium than the hierarchy when representatives of the magisterium allegedly deviate from the teaching. From the perspective of such an understanding of ministry, it is already a departure from doctrine to open oneself up to a substantive discourse, the result of which could mean a further development or even a correction of existing church teaching.9
It becomes even more difficult when those seduced by the “evil enemy” themselves occupy positions in the church hierarchy. The confrontation with clerical abuse therefore requires self-reflection on the part of the Magisterium as to how it intends to arm itself against this instrumentalization. After all, the magisterium is there to protect the Gospel from abuse. But if you cannot protect yourself, you cannot protect others.

    1 Further testimonies from affected persons can be found in Doris Wagner: Spiritueller Missbrauch in der katholischen Kirche. Freiburg 2019. Cf. also by him: #NunsToo. Sexual abuse of women religious. Facts and questions, in: Stimmen der Zeit 143 (6/2018), 374-384.
    2 Abused, beaten, ridiculed – students of Sogyal Rimpoche make serious allegations. Letter dated 14.7.2017, in: Buddhismus aktuell 7/2017.
    3 Cf. Oliver Hammerstein: I was a Munie. Hamburg 1978.
    4 Cf. Eckhard Nordhofen: Corpora. The anarchic power of monotheism. Nordhofen presents a theological approach to the history of monotheism that is, in the best sense, a theology of the discernment of spirits, based on the theological usurpation by the serpent in the paradise narrative.
    5 Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises (GÜ) 23.
    6 GÜ 139: “Ask for what I want. And here this will be: For knowledge of the wiles of the evil leader and for help to guard myself from him …”.
    7 “Even in Catholic media, boundaries can be overstepped; slander and defamation often take root, and all ethics and respect for the reputation of others seem to be left out,” writes the Pope. This creates a dangerous dualism, “because things are said in these networks that would not be tolerable in public life, and people try to compensate for their own dissatisfaction by angrily unloading their desire for revenge”. / The Pope goes on to write that it is striking that, under the pretext of defending other commandments, the eighth commandment – “Thou shalt not bear false witness” – is sometimes completely ignored and the reputation of others is mercilessly destroyed.” Cf. Björn Odendahl: Pope: Rolling your eyes in ecstasy does not make you holy. Francis publishes letter entitled “Gaudete et exsultate” (9.4.2018), on: katholisch.de.
    8 See Sören Kierkegaard (1843 as Johannes de Silentio): Fear and Trembling, e.g. in: Ders. Gesammelte Werke und Tagebücher 4. ed. by Emanuel Hirsch (after Eugen Diederich). Simmerath 2004.
    9 A well-known and not uncontroversial example: the recognition of religious freedom by the Second Vatican Council.

    Klaus Mertes
    Superior of the Ignatius House in Berlin, editor of the cultural magazine STIMMEN DER ZEIT, studied classical philology and Slavic studies in Bonn and, after joining the Jesuit order, philosophy in Munich and theology in Frankfurt. He has worked as a teacher since 1990, first in Hamburg from 1990-1993 and then at Canisius College in Berlin from 1994-2011, where he was rector from 2000. From 2011 to 2020, he was Director of the International Jesuit College in Sankt Blasien.

By Stefan Kiechle
[This article posted in 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.herder.de/stz/hefte/archiv/144-2019/1-2019/spaltungen/.]

There are many divisions in politics: the people of the USA are split into two camps that hate and fight each other. Brutal divisions are emerging in Syria, which are also forming new fronts or cementing old ones around the world. In Europe, the UK is splitting, and Poland, Hungary and Italy are dominated by political styles that not only divide these countries internally, but also distance them from Europe. In Germany, there are many divisions over refugee policy, between parties and within parties. Division means dissent and outrage, speechlessness and intrigue, often also lies and hatred.

There are also many divisions within the church: old camps are hardening and fighting for their direction, often with denunciation and shitstorms. The camps are polarizing around Pope Francis, in the Curia and in the world episcopate. The reappraisal of sexual violence is crystallizing divisions, for example between the defenders of the institution and those of the victims. One could name the camps: here the “doctrinaires” – they want to preserve the identity of the church, even at the cost of marginalization and, if necessary, at the cost of falling into a sect; there the “pastoralists” – they want to embrace the achievements of modernity and remain credible in it, even at the cost of tension with doctrine and tradition. The tone is often difficult to bear, each camp remains in its bubble, dialog becomes impossible.

Politics and the church are connected: In the US, right-wing and anti-Franciscan Catholics are closely aligned with Republicans, ideologically and strategically. Orthodoxy is divided over the Ukraine issue, closely linked to state nationalist politics. In Germany, some traditional Catholics are close to the political New Right. In Italy, right-wing populists are polemicizing against the Pope, who does not want refugees to drown in the Mediterranean.

The outrage mode dominates. Everyone is convinced they are right and points the finger at others who are supposedly wrong. Intellectually, the argument is often poor; in the church, for example, “doctrine” is pitted against “gospel”, in politics “homeland” against “integration”. Simple enemy stereotypes promote identity. Does an over-rationalized world generate even more irrationality? Do fears – which are often fueled and manipulated – generate even more anger? What causes the divisions in the church and the world is – according to classical moral teaching – sinful: the threefold greed for power, money and sex. Was this previously better tamed by culture and law? Is it now newly and destructively unleashed? According to the Bible, it is devils who seduce and divide.

Why the divisions? Has the tolerance for ambiguity become so much lower? Or have difference and complexity become greater, i.e. more fear-inducing? Is it social loss or apocalyptic fears of the end of the world? The excitement is strikingly often about religion or quasi-religious political options. Yet there are more pressing problems than those around which the divisive discourses revolve: for example, the climate crisis, which cries out for rethinking and action, but is not being heard in a divided and consumerist humanity; or the social hardship that leads to violence and flight, and not just in Africa.

In the world, divisions are seemingly overcome through power: Dissenters, foreigners, the other “camp” are silenced, thrown into prison, pushed away. But the distortions continue to work underground. Empires of power arise and fade away. The world is becoming ever more torn apart. There is no improvement in sight.

Back to the Church: its founder himself says that he did not come to bring peace, but division (cf. Luke 12:51). Jesus wants to create unity, a great good, but this only comes through necessary divisions. Bishops and the Pope have internalized the service of oneness as their mission. But the impression is growing that they are prisoners of their rigid apparatuses, which only administer a unity that has become lifeless and loveless. Some divisions can be seen in the apparatuses, for example when the educational congregation prevents a recognized university rector from issuing a nihil obstat because of statements that have already been made by bishops and the Pope in a similar way. Spiritually, much of what is still being held together institutionally is already divided.

The question has hardly been asked so far: Isn’t there a need for a clearer division in the Church? There have always been schisms around the great councils – but they have helped to clarify things. Has it already become clear enough after the Second Vatican Council who is continuing on the path of reform with this “pastoral” council – and who is essentially rejecting it? Those responsible must not allow themselves to be blackmailed by those who loudly threaten schism. Those who secede bear the responsibility for it themselves. Splits are very painful; you must not strive for them, but you must allow them where necessary. And we should trust in the rule of Gamaliel: If new things come only from men, they will be destroyed; but if from God, they cannot be destroyed (Acts 5:38).

    Stefan Kiechle SJ, Dr. theol., born 1960, was a university pastor and novice master, city chaplain and provincial (head of Germany) of the Jesuits. He is currently editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine “Stimmen der Zeit” and commissioner for Ignatian spirituality.

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