Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said directing all state buildings to hang crosses amounts to "expropriating the cross in the name of the state." Bavarian Premier Markus Söder sparked nationwide criticism for the move.
The head of the German Bishops' Conference has sharply criticized the premier of the southern German state of Bavaria for ordering Christian crosses to be hung in all state buildings.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx told German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday that Premier Markus Söder's order had sparked public "division, unrest and animosity."
Söder issued the directive — set to enter into force on June 1 — on Wednesday. On Twitter, he wrote that the cross was a "clear avowal of our Bavarian identity and Christian values."
'Expropriating the cross'
Söder said the order did not break constitutional rules about religious neutrality because the cross was a symbol of the state's "identity" rather than religion.
Bavaria is one of the most Catholic regions of Germany. More than 50 percent of the population identified as Roman Catholic in 2016.
But Marx, who is based in the Bavarian capital, Munich, suggested Söder did not understand the true meaning of the cross.
"You don't understand the cross if you only see it as a cultural symbol," Marx said. Söder's order, he added, had amounted to "expropriating the cross in the name of the state."
Not the first
Marx's rebuke follows public criticism from other religious leaders and politicians in Germany.
The head of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner, wrote on Twitter: "The way Markus Söder and the CSU constantly exploit religion for their party politics is reminiscent of [Turkish President Recep] Erdogan. The constitution has no religion!"
Söder, who assumed office in March, leads a conservative government under the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Claudia Roth, a Green party lawmaker and vice president of the German parliament, accused Söder of marginalizing millions of Muslims, atheists and Jews. "[He] intentionally mixes religion and politics," she said.
The populist AfD's Betarix von Storch is more worried about what she thinks is "Christianity surrendering" with "Cardinal Marx at the helm," according to a tweet. "He lays down the cross at Temple Mount, and he doesn't want it in public buildings either," she quips, saying that this capitulation is why "Islamization has space" to unfold.
Looking for votes?
With an eye to Bavaria's regional elections on October 14, some critics have accused Söder of exploiting the cross to win conservative Christian votes.
The CSU is aiming to keep its absolute majority of seats in the Bavarian parliament amid fears it could lose votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Asked if the order was an attempt to pander to Christian voters ahead of the election, Söder said: "No."
amp/cmk (AFP, KNA, dpa)