A German abbess charged for sheltering refugees has said she would accept a possible jail term with a “clear conscience”.
– “I have stood up for what I consider to be right”
“I could not be proud of it, I would simply have to accept it. But I would have a clear conscience, because I have stood up for what I consider to be right”, Mother Mechthild Thürmer, 62, told the newspapers of the Verlagsgruppe Bistumspresse with regard to the possibility of her imprisonment.
The nun and head of the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Frieden in Kirchschletten (Bavaria) is presently being pursued by the authorities in court for having granted asylum in her convent to an Eritrean woman.
For that protection she afforded, Thürmer was originally slapped with a fine. But she refused to pay, and for that reason a Bamberg court has now threatened her with the prospect of a “severe prison sentence”.
In her latest interview, the religious was sticking to her guns, reaffirming her intention tion not to try and “buy her way out” of the court proceedings and also to keep up with her commitment to protect another Kurdish woman presently staying in the Maria Frieden Abbey.
“I am not deliberately doing anything that could harm the [immigration] process, but I cannot simply send away and leave without protection a person who is still with us”, Thürmer explained, adding that for her to abandon the Kurdish woman would contradict deeply-held convictions on her part.
As the German Ecumenical Committee on Church Asylum explains, the country’s system of church asylum sees parishes and other religious groups “place themselves between refugees and the authorities in order to bring about a re-examination of cases and to prevent deportation”, especially to countries of origin which could prove dangerous to returnees.
It’s a system that’s coming under increasing scrutiny from the German authorities, and the abbess said she had noticed the growing hostility on the part of immigration agents.
But Thürmer recalled that “church asylum is a tradition that has existed since ancient times”.
“In any case”, she added, the system is designed to protect people “who no longer have any prospects in their countries and who have suffered a lot” – for which reason she said she finds it “insane” that church asylum is increasingly coming under the legal microscope.
Thürmer expressed her hope that her forthcoming trial might contribute to a renewed appreciation of church asylum on the part of the authorities and wider society.
But she also pleaded for wider reform of Germany’s “inhumane” asylum system, which she said sees “people… taken out of their beds at three o’clock in the morning to be deported”.
“I really can’t understand that”, the nun deplored, before adding: “The fate of these people affects me a lot – otherwise I wouldn’t be doing all this”.
Though she is in trouble with the German justice system, Thürmer found support for her actions in giving asylum from Cardinal Michael Czerny, the under-secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
“God bless her!”, Cardinal Czerny said of Thürmer at the beginning of August, adding that the abbess was standing in “a long tradition of Christians living their faith to the final consequence”, and that there is no reason for that tradition to be “refuted or broken”.