Catholic theologians are suing police for being detained ahead of protests over a new German coal plant Datteln 4.

Lawyer: why arrest and not simple expulsion from premises

Julia Lis and Benedikt Kern, theologians from the Institute for Theology and Politics in Münster, were detained along with an unnamed Institute employee ahead of a protest February 2 against the new Datteln 4 power plant, as Kirche + Leben reported February 11.

Lis and Kern said they planned to attend the protest as observers and researchers at the interface of the Church and social justice movements.

But police confiscated their car and a mobile phone and took them into custody in a Recklinghausen police station the day before the action: according to the academics, on undisclosed charges.

Lawyer for the academics Wilhelm Achelpöhler questioned the extremity of the arrest of Lis and Kern, when a simple expulsion from the new facility would have sufficed if police suspected they were going to commit a crime.

Greens: detentions “raise considerable questions”

The detention of the academics will now be reviewed in the courts, but the matter is unlikely to end there, even with the partial victory the pair gained February 14, when a court overturned the police ban on Lis and Kern entering the Datteln area for a period of three months, enabling them to attend another protest this Sunday.

The Greens party has now asked North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul for a formal explanation.

“The arrest of members of the Institute for Theology and Politics raises considerable questions”, said a spokeswoman for the Green Parliamentary Group in North Rhine-Westphalia, Verena Schäffer. 

“The Interior Minister must give an account of the dangers posed by the people concerned that justify the deprivation of liberty”, the Greens spokeswoman added.

Police, however, defended their actions, saying that the detention of Lis and and Kern had been proportionate, given that the presence of sleeping bags, clothing and other provisions found in their car the night before the protest indicated they were planning on participating in the action.

Activists call for “immediate coal phase-out”

In the end, more than 100 anti-coal activists ended up occupying the plant February 2, with police attending the scene in “great numbers”, in their own words.

“Today we are occupying the Datteln 4 plant to make it clear to politicians and [international energy company] Uniper that we will not tolerate a new hard coal-fired power plant to go online in 2020”, explained Ende Gelände, the activist group behind the demonstration.

Ende Gelände described as a “disaster” a new German coal law – passed at the end of January and aimed at removing the country’s reliance on coal completely by 2038 – and called for “an immediate coal phase-out”.

But the German government and Uniper are defending Datteln 4, saying it is less polluting than older coal-fired plants.

In direct opposition to Pope Francis’ teachings: in Querida Amazonía, dirty energy industry can become an “instrument of death”

Theologians Lis and Kerns’ action at Datteln 4 is reminiscent of another Catholic protest that took place in December near Aachen Cathedral, where demonstrators gathered to denounce that diocese’s “careless decommissioning of church buildings in the villages that stand in the way of lignite mining” in the Rhine region.

The “indifference of the diocese to church desecrations and demolitions in the villages threatened with relocation” because of the prospecting is in direct opposition to Pope Francis’ teaching in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ on care for our Common Home, the activists denounced at the December protest.

“Mining, like all economic activities, should be at the service of the entire human community”, Francis underlined in a May address to leaders of the extractivist industry.

“The involvement of local communities is important in every phase of mining projects”, the Pope stressed, adding that “mining should be at the service of the human person and not vice versa”.

Francis returned this very week to denouncing the great potential for destruction of mining in his post-Amazon synod apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonía, in which he warned that “when local authorities give free access to the timber companies, mining or oil projects, and other businesses that raze the forests and pollute the environment, economic relationships are unduly altered and become an instrument of death”.

The protesters at the Aachen action denounced that none of Francis’ conditions for human-centric extractivism are being met in lignite mining activities in the Rhine region.

The Aachen protesters also deplored in their action December 14 that Rhine lignite mining projects are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe, and as such make a massive contribution to global warming.

Next on Novena:

‘Querida Amazonía’: 7 of the Pope’s most powerful political statements, beyond the Church debates

Catholic climate change activists protest German diocese’s enabling of lignite mining

Vatican cardinal praises Greta Thunberg’s “coherence with Church’s teaching”

Bishops welcome EU ‘Green Deal’, push Brussels harder for “real ecological conversion”


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.