The Münster diocese in Germany has banned members of the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany, Alternative für Deutschland) party from Church leadership roles.
For the local Church, an “inhumane and undemocratic” party
“I think it is impossible for a head of a day care centre, a consultant in the Episcopal General Vicariate or a Caritas managing director to be an active AfD member”, Münster Vicar General Klaus Winterkamp said February 13 in a meeting with representatives of charitable and church institutions in Haltern, communicating the ban on members of the party known for their right-wing populist, Eurosceptic, racist and even neo-Nazi views.
Winterkamp said that, in his opinion at least, the active promotion of those extremist views contradicts the basic values of Christianity and thus the “mission” of the Church, which all the estimated 750,000 Church employees in Germany are required to abide by under labour law.
The Münster Vicar General went so far as to label AfD policies as inhumane and undemocratic.
However, he did admit that he was unsure whether the veto on AfD members could extend to all non-leadership forms of Church employment, and even whether the ban would hold up in court.
“I am speaking here as a theologian who also stands for the mission of the Church”, Winterkamp clarified, adding to avoiding any misunderstandings that there are currently no known cases of AfD sympathisers in leadership roles in the Church of Münster.
“Xenophobia, slander against other religious communities, exaggerated nationalism…”: “red lines” for Catholics
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the AfD has been highly charged, and even more so the more the party expands its presence, as it has been doing in the Federal, European and different State Parliaments.
Although some priests have drawn close to the AfD and its various foundations, ahead of the 2017 federal election now outgoing Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx outlined a series of “red lines” for Catholics in politics, which included “xenophobia, slander against other religious communities, exaggerated nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism [and] indifference to world poverty”, all of which the AfD are known for.
In June 2019, too, the German Bishops’ Conference published a 74-page aid for use in parishes and other Church groups outlining the incompatibility with Catholicism of extreme right-wing positions on issues such as the importance of democratic institutions, migration, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and the image and dignity of the person.
Cardinal Marx: “Nationalism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive”
Last December, German Church leaders Cardinal Marx and President of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, both condemned the far right, insisting that “nationalism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive”.
“There are right-wing voices in the Catholic Church. And there are Catholic clergymen who are positive about the AfD. We as a large democratic majority cannot differentiate ourselves sharply enough”, Sternberg told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland December 18.
“Our appreciation of tradition and homeland is at risk of being misused by right-wing nationalist actors”, warned Marx at around the same time.