When Prelate Karl Jüsten used to invite people to the Catholic Church’s annual Michaels reception in Berlin, it was a must-attend event for politicians in the capital. Chancellors paid their respects to the bishops, federal ministers, sometimes even federal presidents. But that’s over. At the reception in 2021, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the then President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble also visited the bishops. This October, neither Olaf Scholz nor a single member of the cabinet came, nor did the President of the Bundestag. Instead, Union faction leader Friedrich Merz and Deputy President of the Bundestag Petra Pau from the left took part. Still, one could say.
One could consider that an irrelevant side note or blame it on the corona pandemic, but it is a symptom: the importance of the churches is rapidly dwindling, not only in society, but also in politics. With the change to the traffic light coalition, this trend has finally arrived in the capital. Only a few in the cabinet are still involved in the churches or are members at all. Scholz and many from his cabinet also waived the divine formula when they were sworn in. At the meeting of the G-7 foreign ministers in Münster in November, Annalena Baerbock even had the cross taken down in the meeting room out of consideration for participants from other religions. The relationship between politics and church is cooler under the traffic light than under the previous coalition, in which the Union co-governed.
A palpable alienation
But there is another reason for the alienation, and it weighs more heavily: Many politicians are keeping their distance because of the abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Cologne, even those who are actually more close to the churches. Mainly because the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, is slow in explaining the abuse. It’s not that the politicians suddenly no longer have any trust in the church people or that they are no longer welcomed in a friendly manner. But they consider very carefully whether such meetings are still opportune and what images they produce. He would understand it well, says an SPD member of the state parliament from North Rhine-Westphalia, if Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst from the CDU no longer met Cardinal Woelki. “No politician can afford to be in a photo with him and then possibly laugh.” An influential member of the Bundestag also says that politicians used to like being photographed with Catholic representatives in order to show their closeness to the church show and to address certain groups of voters. Long ago.
Many politicians are also bothered by the fact that the Catholic Church in particular continues to argue morally on issues such as euthanasia or abortion, although its own morality is not far off. “The abuse scandals have caused a huge shock,” says the member of the Bundestag. “In many places I now say to church representatives: it’s better to be calm on moral issues.” “Today the invitations of the church are invitations like any other, where you see if you have time. Trust in the churches has also eroded among many politicians.”
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