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Christmas Message

DW staff (sp)
December 24, 2008

In their Christmas message, Germany's Protestant and Catholic churches warned that "money has become God"and called for a return to non-materialistic values and urged bank managers to be more prudent.

Germany's churches have urged followers to use Christmas to rethink their prioritiesImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Wolfgang Huber, Germany's top Protestant Bishop, on Wednesday sharply criticized the strong profit-driven focus and "culture of greed " of individual bank managers and executives.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber
Huber has urged followers to stop chasing moneyImage: DW

Huber, who represents around 25 million Protestants in Germany, said banks needed to give more priority to "sustainable value-building" rather than to short-term financial gain and hefty bonuses for its managers.

"Money has become akin to God in the current situation," Huber told daily Berliner Zeitung.

Huber slams Ackermann

The Bishop referred specifically to Josef Ackermann, CEO of Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank, as a negative example.

Ackermann, one of Germany's most highly-paid bankers, created a stir early this month by insisting that Deutsche Bank's investment banking businesses -- a branch that has largely lost its luster in the ongoing crisis -- would soon generate a return on equity of 20 to 25 percent after the end of the current financial turmoil.

Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann
Ackermann stirred controversy with his ambitious targets in the midst of financial gloomImage: AP

Huber said he expected that "never again will a Deutsche Bank CEO set a target of 25 percent on equity returns," warning that it would create expectations that would grow larger and could never be fulfilled. He called on managers to be more prudent and forgo large bonuses.

The bonuses should be used to stabilize financial systems instead, Huber said, adding that financial players needed to be made liable for the damage they cause in the same way that they profit from gains.

Churches attack obsession with money

In his Christmas message, Huber called for a return to non-materialistic values, saying people needed to make a clearer distinction between God and money than in the past years.

Huber said the boom in financial markets was not balanced out by real values and in retrospect the whole thing was clearly "a dance round the golden calf."

"For me a really important lesson from this year has been that we really stop worshipping money the way we have," he said.

A trader at the Frankfurt stock exchange
The global financial crisis has dominated the churches' Christmas addresses this yearImage: AP

The global financial storm and news of profit-hungry managers and bank fraud also dominated the Christmas address by the Catholic Church.

"The banker is the custodian for money that doesn't belong to him and with which he has to work," Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, said Wednesday . "It's devastating that this ethos can simply disappear and that people can trade with things that don't exist."

Both the Protestant and Catholic churches warned that despite the global slowdown and recession, the fight against worldwide poverty had to go on.

"You can't champion justice in your own country without sharing with people who are affected by poverty in the world," Huber said.