Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has caused a civil war in the German Church by founding a new independent and conservative foundation for Catholic journalism.
Driving the news
Editor-in-chief and CEO of the German Catholic weekly Die Tagespost, Oliver Maksan, announced December 18 that Benedict had given his blessing to the establishment of the new “Tagespost Foundation for Catholic Journalism”.
“I want the Catholic voice to be heard”, the retired former pope was quoted as saying of his involvement with the new foundation.
The goal of the new foundation is to raise 450,000 euros in the next year ($500,000) to invest in the training of young Catholic journalists, to help Catholic media achieve greater reach and to finance a variety of other projects, including biomedical research.
But the establishment of the new Benedict foundation has caused controversy in German Catholic media circles.
Not least of all because the German Church already has a foundation for the training of Catholic communication professionals, the Institute for the Promotion of Young Journalists (IFP).
That institute is funded by the German Bishops and has been active for over fifty years, pursuing the very same goal that Benedict himself expressed: that the Catholic voice “be heard”.
The Catholic News Agency – which has come out in support of the new Benedict foundation – explained the establishment of the foundation as a Church-political move.
“With a few notable exceptions – such as the German edition of Catholic News Agency, CNA Deutsch – the infrastructure of Catholic media and its representational bodies in Germany are deeply embedded in the overall structures and bodies of the Church there”, the English edition of CNA explained.
“The initiative by the pope emeritus was recognized by both supporters and critics as a strategic move to bolster orthodox Catholic reporting independent of episcopal and other influences”, CNA English further said.
Why it matters
But that there is a need for “orthodox Catholic reporting” in Germany beyond that of the IFP and other episcopal media projects and news outlets is debatable.
Especially since Pope Francis praised the work of the IFP in a November 2018 audience to mark the IFP’s fiftieth anniversary, saying that “Germany can consider itself fortunate… knowing that there are many IFP graduates among the many journalists, that is, both in the secular and ecclesial media”.
The other controversial point to the new Benedict foundation is the decision to link it precisely to the Tagespost, “a German newspaper whose conservative leanings are not a secret”, as Catholic historian and theologian Massimo Faggioli recalled on Twitter.
The conservative-partisan gesture of Benedict’s partnership with the Tagespost was ironic coming “from the pope who made the distinction between ‘the real Vatican II’ and ‘the council of the media'”, Faggioli observed.
Faggioli later linked, as he put it, to an editorial from the Tagespost “describing pope Francis’ pontificate as a chaos, brought to you by the same newspaper where the Ratzinger foundation (or whatever the name) for Catholic journalism has just been founded”.
For the record
Faggioli’s observations came as lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) President Thomas Sternberg criticised the Tagespost and private Austrian outlet kath.net for being “hard-minded media”.
Sternberg further linked both outlets to the extreme conservatism and nationalism of the type represented by the xenophobic, neo-Nazi political party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Tagespost CEO and editor-in-chief Maksan rejected Sternberg’s criticisms, however, in comments to CNA Deutsch.
Maksan said Sternberg’s smearing of his publication was political and an “attempt to silence” voices critical of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process by relegating them to the right-wing.
However, Maksan refused to distance himself and the Tagespost from the AfD, saying that the publication doesn’t take sides but prefers to prioritise “debate and diversity of opinions”.