A German bishop has hit out at conservative Catholic haters online, saying after commentators hijacked a post on his Facebook account that trolls don’t give “a testimony to our Lord”.

– A heartfelt tribute to Brother Roger and Taizé…

Last August 16 marked the 15th anniversary of the murder of Brother Roger, the founder of the ecumenical Taizé Community, which the Swiss-born religious founded in France 80 years ago also this past August 20.

To commemorate both events, Bishop of Passau Stefan Oster took to Facebook August 22 to remember the “life of prayer, simplicity, fraternity and hospitality” of Brother Roger, whom Oster said he had the privilege of meeting during his lifetime and whom he described as “a man full of depth, wisdom and love for Christ – a man with a child’s heart full of trust”.

Oster, 55, said he credited Taizé with awakening in him at the age of 17 – when he visited the fraternity in France – a “beginning of a journey of longing and the search for God’s presence which continues to this day”.

“Thanks be to Brother Roger and to the Taizé Community – and to Him who led them and with whom Brother Roger can now be joyful”, the bishop wrote, praising Taizé for the contribution it has made to Europe, to the world and to the renewal of the Church.

– … turns into a cesspit

That heartfelt tribute of the bishop’s to Brother Roger and the community he founded quickly turned into what Oster called in a follow-up post August 25 a “lively debate” on Taizé’s ecumenical focus.

But the bishop drew a line at the accusations of heresy that were levelled at Protestants in the discussion to his original post, and denounced that commentators were criticising the rituals of the Lord’s Supper practised by Christians of other denominations.

Standing up to the trolls who responded to his post on Taizé, Oster wrote that “for me, respect for what other Christians believe is very important”.

“I have also learned – and still learn – a great deal from my brothers and sisters in faith from other denominations – for example, from personal encounters but also from important theological literature”, the bishop continued.

He warned that whoever accused Protestants of being heretics or disrespected their Communion practices “in my view does not give a testimony to our Lord, who died out of love even for those who believed differently than He did”.

– A warning against Pharisaism

In their “struggle for the truth”, the bishop called on Catholics to embrace also a “deep… respect” for Christians of other traditions, lest they fall into the “Pharisai[sm]” of only a mental faith that “does not strive for loving recognition of the other”.

“I do not want to read such disrespectful and exclusionary comments on this page”, Oster warned in conclusion, before linking to a speech and sermon of his in which he insisted, among other things, that “for us Catholics… the path of ecumenism is irreversible”.

Pope Francis has on a number of occasions praised the witness of the Taizé community – as in a 2014 address in Turkey, for example, when he lauded the community’s contribution in transmitting to Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox youth “the true humanism which comes from the Gospel and from the Church’s age-old experience”.

Like Bishop Oster, Pope Francis also believes the Catholic Church’s journey along the path of ecumenism is irreversible – or “irrevocable”, as the pontiff put it in a May 25 message for the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint (“That they may be one”).

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