Monday, February 05, 2024

Church in Germany concerned about rise of xenophobic parties

The Catholic Church in Germany is joining growing concerns in the country over the rise of far-right, anti-Semitic, and anti-democratic groups that are gaining increased support among the German electorate ahead of the European Parliament elections in June, and of other important regional and local polls to be held this year.  

Of particular concern are radical groups such as the III Way, Heimat, and AfD (Alternative for Germany), a German nationalist, euro-sceptic, and anti-immigration party, currently ranking second in the polls, behind the CDU/CSU centre-right Christian democratic political alliance.

Bishops, men and women religious and lay Catholic organizations have stated that they cannot accept the ideologogy of these parties, saying they it is incompatible with Christian and democratic values.

Protests gaining momentum against xenophobic parties

Anti-far right demonstrations have gained momentum in Germany in the past weeks after the media outlet Correctiv released a report  that neo-Nazi leaders had met in Potsdam on 20 November 2023 to discuss the deportation of millions of immigrants, including some with German citizenship, reawakening the dark memories the rise of National Socialism in the Thirties.

Some members of AfD were present at the meeting, though the party sought to distance itself from participants, saying it had no organizational or financial links to the event, and that it wasn't responsible for what was discussed there.

Large crowds of people have been taking to the streets in several major German cities, including Hamburg and Aachen, asking for the ban of AfD, which, however many AfD's opponents argue  could benefit the party by allowing it to portray itself as a victim.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Demonstrations culminated on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which were joined by several Church leaders. Among them, bishops from Lower Saxony.

Bishop Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim called on citizens to uphold democratic values, stating that "our democracy is alive because many in Germany are committed to it."

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen noted that the "AfD has departed from democratic principles" and that "Catholics cannot vote for this party." Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg stated that "there is no intersection between Christianity and AfD."

On the other hand, Bishop Helmut Der of Aachen, who also expressed his support to the protest, emphasized that demonstrations alone are not sufficient to shape and guide politics in the right direction.

Bishop Der said he strongly opposes "any form of racism, anti-Semitism, glorification of violence, dismantling of our culture of freedom and the rule of law, and questioning the political unification of Europe."

He clarified that the Church supports a policy that is in solidarity with the most vulnerable and those "who want to lead a better life in peace and security, and affirm our liberal democracy."

Bishop Bätzing: Holocaust is something to still reflect on today

On Remembrance Day, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, remarked in a statement that remembering the Holocaust is not just “a look at the past," but something to still reflect on today as we see populist propaganda on migration poisoning public debate with its xenophobic and racist rhetoric.

The German bishops have been mobilizing on this issue for some time. In November 2023, six Catholic bishops of the Eastern Laender released a document warning against the activities of far-right parties.

In a joint appeal, they stated that, in conscience, they cannot accept positions held by these parties, describing the "delusion of expulsion of migrants, the rejection of protection for refugees, the exclusion of people with disabilities, the exclusive attention to performance, the denial of climate change, and their general contempt for political actors and institutions" as incompatible with the fundamental values of society.

"Remigration" plan is against human dignity

German men and women religious and Catholic lay organizations have expressed a similar stance.

The Executive Board of the Conference of Superiors of Germany (DOK), representing 14,300 religious, expressed horror at the news of the so-called "remigration" plan discussed in Potsdam, saying it overtly contradicts the principle of equal dignity of all people, and the fundamental values of a free and democratic society.  

Lamenting that "even members of congregations and religious communities in Germany are affected by xenophobic and racist slogans," the Conference hailed “that many people, including men and women, take to the streets for democracy and diversity and against right-wing extremism."

For its part, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) stated that it is concerned by “the emergence of right-wing populist, antidemocratic, and anti-Semitic beliefs and movements, even within the Church."