German Church leaders have condemned the political far-right, insisting that “nationalism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive”.

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“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”, lay Central Committee of German Catholics Thomas Sternberg told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland December 18.

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Sternberg was referring, with his allusion to the AfD, to the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland).

The party has been described as Eurosceptic, racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and xenophobic, and even neo-Nazi.

Since 2017, the AfD is the largest opposition party in the German Parliament, and is also the second-largest political force in the state legislatures of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

“Nationalism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive”, Sternberg insisted.

The ZdK President distanced himself again from retired Dominican priest Wolfgang Ockenfels, who belongs to the AfD’s Desiderius-Erasmus political training foundation, has criticised multiple times in the past Germany’s migration policies and in 2016 blasted the German Bishops for their decision to distance the Church from the far-right party.

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Another German Church leader who has raised his voice against the kind of ultra-nationalism represented by the AfD is German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

“Our appreciation of tradition and homeland is at risk of being misused by right-wing nationalist actors”, wrote Marx to Hartmut Ziebs, the former President of the German Fire Brigade Association (DFV), in a letter that became known last weekend.

Ziebs had warned in November that “partially right-wing nationalist tendencies in the AfD” had infiltrated high ranks in the DFV, and that he considered those “right-wing nationalists… [trying] to find a foothold in our organization” a “threat to democracy”.

Ziebs ended up stepping down December 14 from his post representing Germany’s some 1.3 million voluntary and professional firefighters, after receiving pushback and threats from the DFV leaders he accused of right-wing nationalist sympathies, who considered his warnings inaccurate.

But Cardinal Marx said he was grateful to Ziebs for standing up for democracy.

“As Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your frank and clear words”, Marx wrote to the former fire chief.

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