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Germany's Catholic Church speaks out against far right

February 23, 2024

German bishops are concerned about right-wing extremism and have explicitly positioned themselves against the populist Alternative for Germany. An unusual move, as they are usually loath to comment on political parties.

The AfD logo on a van next to a church in Freiburg
Church representatives in Germany have come out to take a stance against the far rightImage: Rolf Haid/picture alliance

Catholic bishops meeting in the city of Augsburg this week strongly condemned the rise of ethnic nationalism and right-wing extremism in German society.

"Right-wing extremist parties and those that run rampant on the fringes of this ideology can therefore not be a place of political activity for Christians and are also not electable," they said in a statement.

On this point, the bishops made an explicit reference to the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). They said the party's beliefs are "incompatible with the Christian image of God and humankind."

The statement is highly unusual because for the past 25 years, the Catholic bishops have been reluctant to offer any assessments of political parties.

The head of the Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, explained that the more than 60 bishops deliberated at length over making a statement, but agreed it was necessary. He also pointed out that the declaration had been adopted unanimously.

"After several spurts of radicalization," the statement reads, "the AfD is now dominated by a nationalistic attitude." It goes on to point out that the AfD oscillates between genuine right-wing extremism, which the domestic intelligence agency has documented in some regional branches and in the party's youth organization, and less radical right-wing populism.

Bishops at the Augsburg conference with Georg Bätzing (m) addressing the session
The statement against the far right was adopted unanimously at the meeting in AugsburgImage: Annette Zöpf/EPD-Bild/picture alliance

The statement specifically denounces hostility toward refugees, migrants and Muslims, and "to an increasing extent" Jews.

The bishops indicated that they will hold full-time church employees and volunteers to account. "Moreover, the circulation of right-wing extremist slogans — which includes racism and antisemitism in particular — is incompatible with full-time or volunteer service in the Church."

A religious alliance against the far right

In early December, the Protestant Church in Germany also issued a statement on the AfD, declaring that the party's stance is "in no way compatible with the principles of the Christian faith." Jewish and Muslim communities have also issued warnings, indicating there is a broad religious alliance against the AfD.

Germany has seen two months of large street protests against the hateful rhetoric and political vision of Germany's far right. They began after a report was published on January 10 by investigative journalism group Correctiv about a meeting of various right-wing and far-right figures, including some AfD members, to discuss the expulsion of millions of people with a migrant background living in Germany.

Several bishops have recently taken part in these demonstrations against right-wing extremism. Bätzing participated in a demonstration in his episcopal city of Limburg, while the bishop of Mainz, Peter Kohlgraf, warned against xenophobia at a demonstration in the Rhineland-Palatinate state capital of Mainz. In Augsburg, Bishop Bertram Meier announced the church's opposition to dehumanizing and anti-democratic politics.

Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg was probably the most outspoken, cautioning against "demagogues" and "incendiary opportunists." He warned: "Let's not fall for lies, the distortion of facts, and the 'poison of simple solutions!'"

"Our cross has no hooks" is written on a banner at St. Bartholomew's Church in Demmin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, on May 8, 2017, while supporters of the far-right NPD party march past holding white crosses.
German Christians have been speaking out against the far right using the slogan 'our cross has no hooks' (in reference to the swastika Nazi symbol)Image: Bernd Wüstneck/ZB/dpa/picture alliance

Catholics in the eastern part of Germany, where the AfD is set to become the strongest political force after parliamentary elections in three states later this year, have been more vocal than their Western counterparts and have explicitly spoken out on the AfD.

Claudio Kullmann, the head of the Catholic Office in Erfurt and the church's liaison office for state politics for the past six years, was one of the orators at the bishops' meeting in Augsburg. Erfurt is located in the eastern state of Thuringia, where the AfD currently polls at over 30%, although the state branch has been classified as "confirmed right-wing extremist by the intelligence service.

Kullmann said the presence of a nationalist ethos and AfD-like thinking endangers social cohesion and "could even erode trust among friends."

The Augsburg decision will certainly heighten the excitement surrounding the upcoming Catholic Day 2024. From May 29 to June 2, Catholics will gather in Erfurt, only 13 weeks before the Thuringia election — with right-wing extremist Björn Höcke as the leading AfD candidate. According to a court ruling, the radical AfD politician can be labeled a fascist.

This article was originally written in German.

Defiance in Germany: Can mass protests stop the far right?

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Deutsche Welle Strack Christoph Portrait
Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C