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People and Politics Forum 06. 02. 2009

"Should politicians intervene in Church affairs?"

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More information:

Holocaust Debate - Chancellor Merkel's Support for German-Jewish Solidarity

In a display of determination, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said there must be no equivocation over the Holocaust, demanding clarity from German-born Pope Benedict XVI. Her statement followed the Vatican's decision to allow Bishop Richard Williamson - a known Holocaust denier - to re-enter the Catholic fold.

Mrs Merkel has consistently worked towards advancing Christian-Jewish dialogue, condemning any hint of Holocaust denial, which is punishable under German law. German prosecutors have opened investigations against Williamson.German-Israeli relations also weigh heavily on Chancellor Merkel's mind as she seeks to quell any doubts over German remembrance of the Holocaust, stressing German solidarity with Israel.

Our Question is:

"Should politicians intervene in Church affairs?"

Comments by Harrison Picot, in the USA, are scathing:

"Angela Merkel has said there must be no equivocation over the Holocaust, but her position is either hypocritical or just an apology from Germany to the Jews, at a time when few guilty Germans exist and the assault of Israel on the Palestinians and their land is relentless. Merkel sides with the Israeli theft of land and the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without trial, ignores the Israeli rockets into the Gaza ghetto while condemning the speech of a Catholic priest. Which is worse, speech or murder? ..Mrs Merkel just proves that Germans like she have learned nothing."

René Junghans, in Brazil has this to say:

"Everyone can and should be allowed to be critical -- that’s a part of democracy. That said, it’s inappropriate for Chancellor Merkel to have given such harsh criticism publicly. Had she done this as a private person, the circumstances would have been completely different. As a politician, Chancellor Merkel must follow diplomatic protocol, which does not allow for such open criticism. When someone denies the Holocaust, it’s ultimately the case of dementia-plagued people who are unsuccessful in denying proven fact. Demented people should either get psychiatric help or, when that isn’t possible, be broadly ignored. Pope Ratzinger is a very old man who would do well to retire. On the one hand, he seems to me in many ways to be very honest and well-intentioned, but on other counts, he just can’t seem to wrap his head around certain things. But to crucify him for a highly personal decision ... I find that out of place. Let the pope do his work and let Chancellor Merkel do hers -- to each his own. It surely wouldn’t suit Chancellor Merkel if the pope were to tell her how to run the country."

Charles Smyth of Great Britain says Merkel's statement was justified:

"...given that this particular subject has such an impact on German politics, and Angela Merkel was advocating a stronger church influence within east Germany's civil society as a counter to the general influence of Islam including Holocaust denial rhetoric out of Iran, there was a need for swift intervention to clearly establish the Vatican's position. After all, the Vatican has a global reach, and its position is highly influential from Berlin to Washington to D.C. and beyond."

Rolf Bockmühl from the Philippines says criticism is necessary:

"It is unacceptable that the Catholic Church survives on our money but does whatever it wants. Even the church’s expenses can’t be controlled. Thus, there must be criticism! If the Vatican officially said that that the pope didn’t know the details ahead of time, I would be astounded. A well-read person like Pope Ratzinger didn’t know something like that? That sounds like a sorry excuse to me. And the supposed apology from the English bishop should only superficially change people’s attitudes toward the church. This obstinate Mr. Williams barely budges an inch, like most members of this brotherhood. Chancellor Merkel handled this well – and quickly. Kudos!"

Gerhard Seeger, also from the Philippines, also has similar sentiments:

"The Holocaust and the systematic murder of millions of Jews is a well-proven fact. When that becomes something that is denied by high-ranking members of the church, and when the Pope reinstates Williamson and even the brotherhood of St. Pius -- something that would be difficult to understand – all of us, including politicians, have the right to criticize. The age when church and pope were untouchable is over."

But Anthony Rowling, in South Africa, says the Pope has been misrepresented:

"DW's reporting on this issue is bordering on the sensational; in the first place, the Pope was not aware of Williamson's views on the Holocaust, at the time of his (and the organisation Pius X) readmittance to the Church. To imply that Benedict knowingly allowed his return to the Church, is disengenuous to say the very least. The second point is that Chancellor Merkel requested clarity on the Vatican's position on the issue; there was no ' criticism of the Pope" , as stated in DW's introduction. Pope Benedict has done more to heal the rift between Catholics and Jews over the years than any other head of the Church, and should be given credit for it - especially by the Jewish Board of Deputies in Germany."

Martin Burmeister, in Venezuela, says clarity is the key:

"There should be 100% separation of church and state because it's unfortunate that one side is always attacking or discriminating against the other. A down-to-earth, factual debate is the only way out..."

Lee Davis, in the USA, says the issue proves the need for international action:

"I believe we need international laws to deal with hate crimes, individual states or nations will always protect themselves. That is why my president and his administration may get away with policy, that may have lead to war crimes. We must all face our demons."

Amin Zoqurti, in Jordan, harbors no doubts about the right to criticism:

"..if someone does something wrong then he expects criticism. Everybody, especially politicians, should be allowed to criticise."

Jack Becconsall, in Britain, goes a step further:

"Whenever the churches seek to extend their influence beyond their godly concerns into the real world, they must be challenged by our elected representatives."

But Adalbert Goertz, in the USA, takes issue with Chancellor Merkel's criticism:

"The chancellor should leave the Pope alone. That British bishop did not deny the Holocaust. He only said that he doubted the figure of 6 million gassed. I have heard his statement several times now. Does that mean I now face prison in Germany?"

Herbert Fuchs, in Finland, says the whole affair is beyond comprehension:

"Ordinary people in the street just do not understand how those living behind Vatican walls think and act. I do not want to say that Pope Benedict XVI is in any way guilty because the whole Vatican state probably pursues its own rules and laws in trying to survive, and the Pope is only a a human being..."

And in Costa Rica, Erwin Scholz offers this poetic, tongue-in-cheek comment:

"Those church dignitaries under attack

won't lose time to react,

with punishment they shalt respond,

not in this world, but beyond..."

The editorial staff of ‘People and Politics’ reserves the right to shorten letters received.