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Germany

Germany's Protestant churches to elect new leader

Eight months after the shock resignation of its former head, Germany's Protestant churches are close to electing a new leader at their annual synod in Hanover. Theologian Nikolaus Schneider is tipped to take over.

Schneider in robes with orange scarf draped over shoulders.

Praeses Nikolaus Schneider is likely the next EKD head

Theologian Nikolaus Schneider, who looks set to be elected to lead Germany's 25 million Protestants, has renewed calls for multicultural integration of migrants and an end to nuclear power and rejected suggestions that state funding of churches be trimmed.

Schneider became acting chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), a nationwide federation comprising 22 regional Protestant churches, early this year when the-then freshly elected EKD head Margot Kaessmann quit after being caught drunk driving. Kaessmann, currently a guest tutor based at Emory University in the US state of Georgia, had been the EKD's first-ever top female bishop.

At the EKD synod, beginning in Hanover on Sunday, Schneider will seek a full five-year term to formally replace her. That vote is due on Tuesday. A prominent rival candidate has not emerged. Of Germany's 82 million people there are some 25 million Protestants and roughly the same number of Roman Catholics.

Kaessmann with flowers on election in Ulm, October 2009

Kaessmann remained only five months in office

Seeking nomination for two vacant seats on the 15-member EKD council is the trade unionist Edeltraud Glaenzer who is a specialist on equal opportunities for women and theology professor Christiane Tietz, who also serves on a bilateral Protestant-Roman Catholic consultation committee. The EKD opening is to be attended by German President Christian Wulff and the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch.

God not soccer automate

The 63-year-old Schneider has said he would continue Kaessmann's outspoken stands on societal issues such as poverty and economic greed. Kaessmann was also a prominent opponent of the war in Afghanistan, where German troops are deployed.

On the issue of integration in Germany, Schneider told the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday that the current ongoing debate of the topic was helpful in bringing the realities of migrants to the fore.

Reacting to Merkel's recent claim that multicultural society had "utterly failed" in Germany, Schneider said while there was little future in residents living alongside one another but not using German to communicate, the expression "multiculti" stood for "a conscious acceptance of a togetherness involving various cultures, religions and ways of life in Germany."

Group photo of teenage girls walking

Multiculti is already normality, says Schneider

"That is a realistic future perspective and is already normality in many places in our country," Schneider said.

He added that an EKD text on Islam from 2006 left no doubt that "we want to live together in good neighborly relationships. But this is only achievable through the clarification of critical questions."

In the past, Schneider has called on Muslims in Germany to press for religious freedom in Muslim countries, including allowing Christians in Turkey to build churches.

Schneider began his pastoral career in the 1970s in the onetime steel and coal mining city of Duisburg, where, since 2003, he had presided over its regional church assembly as its praeses, a religious function somewhat like president.

Family tragedy

Tragedy struck in 2005 when the father-of-three lost his youngest daughter, Meike, aged 22, to leukemia. In their subsequent book, Schneider and his wife Anne said "God's way with Meike and us remains baffling and terribly disconcerting. But we sensed God amidst the suffering and felt wonderfully comforted."

Microscope photo of embryo being pushed.

Embryo diagnostics is ebing hotly debated

In the lead-up to the Hanover synod, Schneider adopted a consensual course on pre-implantation genetic diagnostics or PID, saying a broad debate was still needed. He added he also understood parents-to-be with potentially inheritable diseases who wanted to use PID as a chance to check an embryo's health before its implantation in the womb.

Opponents of PID within the EKD include Bavaria's Protestant Bishop Johannes Friedrich who, during a sermon on Thursday, described it as ethically irresponsible.

"People should never presume to be able to decide whether a life is worthy and unworthy," Friedrich said.

State funding of churches defended

Hand holding coins about collection bag in church

Donations, taxes and fees provide church revenues

Schneider also told the Frankfurter Allgemeine that the EKD was ready to confront critics who have called for evaluating the historical funding of the mainstream Protestant and Roman Catholic churches by Germany's 16 states.

Green Party politicians in Bavaria and members of the pro-business Free Democrats have recently pointed to a lack of funding for other religious communities in Germany.

The state endowments, which date back to the Napoleonic secularization across Europe around 1803, have come under question as cash-strapped German states look to save at least some of the 459 million euros ($665 million) they give the churches each year.

"The state payments are for services in return (from the churches) and are by no means amount to magnanimity by the state," Schneider said, adding, however, that the EKD was ready for dialogue on the issue.

Author: Ian P. Johnson (EPD, KNA, AP)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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