Peter Seewald, a journalist who published several interview–books with Pope Benedict XVI, strongly criticizes Cardinal Reinhard Marx for his recent public rebuke of Markus Söder, the governor of Bavaria, Germany, for ordering the public display of crosses in public buildings. He is joined now by two other prominent German journalists.
Only recently, we had reported on Peter Seewald’s strong indignation about Cardinal Marx’ decision to close down a Bavarian historic Abbey which otherwise could have been kept alive. Seewald pointed out that all the wealth of that Abbey has now been transferred to the hands of the Archdiocese of Munich, i.e., Cardinal Marx.
Just now, Marx has also made headlines by publicly praising Karl Marx, an enemy of religion, of the family, and of personal property, whose ideas inspired formidable dictatorships which killed millions of people.
Now, Peter Seewald once more has raised his voice, opposing Cardinal Marx on his public – and quite severe – criticism of the political decision of the Bavarian governor to display Christian crosses in public buildings. Seewald now asks “Does the cardinal of Munich still speak in the name of the German bishops?” and he comments on this in his article “The Cross with Marx.” Seewald points out that in Trier, the birthplace of Karl Marx, there is to be errected a statue honoring Karl Marx “whose ideology cost about 150 million people’s lives.” Cardinal Marx, continues Seewald, praised the Communist Manifesto, saying that he is “quite impressed” with it. At the same time, adds Seewald, that same Catholic prelate criticizes Governor Söder “in a sharp manner” for his decision to display Christian crosses in public buildings.
As the German journalist explains, it was to be expected that Söder’s initiative would receive criticism. “But it is new,” he adds, “that also a cardinal makes harsh criticism when in public buildings the symbol of Christianity is to be given high honors.” And that he would even claim that such an act would cause “division, unrest, and animosity.” “As if,” adds Seewald, “there would not be division and animosity when the President of the German, and of the Bavarian, Bishops’ Conference more and more opposes, so to say, his natural allies, who more or less are left as the last partners for the Christian cause.” In his eyes, “it is of course questionable” whether Cardinal Marx “thereby still speaks in the name of the German bishops” or whether he presents only “a private opinion which manifests a process of self-secularization.”
Moreover, as the journalist informs us, “in the Bavarian Bishops’ Conference, Marx is isolated” since he pushed the bishops into deciding over a grave question “that cannot be decided upon per se by a majority vote.” Here, Seewald refers to the recent decision of the German Bishops’ Conference to approve, in individual cases, the admittance of Protestant spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion. He also points out that Marx himself pushed this agenda in spite of the fact that “a Cardinal Woelki had previously made it clear that magisterial statements – especially in central questions of the Catholic Faith – are not up to national councils to decide.”
With reference to Marx’s comments on the Bavarian situation, Seewald comments:
The sharp attack on the decision of the Bavarian government is thus not only an act of de-solidarization, but also a proof for the lack of understanding of a country and a people in the largest state of this [Federal German] Republic.
After praising the deep Catholicicity of the State of Bavaria and its deeply rooted Catholic traditions (such as the many field crosses and shrines), Seewald says that while one cannot hold it against Marx for himself not being a Bavarian (he is from North Rhine-Westphalia), one may nevertheless criticize him “for not having shown much interest in it, in the ten years since he has reigned in Munich.” At the same time, explains the journalist,
The complaints about a style of life and style of leadership similar to those of a prince bishop, and this lack of closeness to the people, are getting even stronger, not the least also about an opportunism which orients itself in controversial matters along the lines of the statements made by the reigning media.
Seewald – who wrote several interview books with Pope Benedict XVI and is a prominent figure in Germany – points out that Marx is known for removing the cross “when it threatens to be offensive.” To hang up a cross brings “unrest,” says Marx. “But,” answers Seewald, was the symbol of Christianity not from the beginning on a sign of contradiction?” Once it was the cross had been attacked by “Hammer and Sickle,” and, another time, by “the Swastika.” But wherever it was removed, explains the journalist, “neither in the East nor in the West did times get better.” Should we thus not be glad, asks Seewald, “that in Bavarian official buildings are hanging, not the signs of autocratic political systems – symbols for suppression and the spirit of subservience – but, rather, a sign of love?”
Thus, Seewald sees it as a sign of “societal progress” after the crimes of the German National Socialists that the European West would establish a new constitutional order whose foundation was based on the “message of the Gospels.”
Moreover, the author also asks where to start when one wishes to remove the “sign of contradiction” from the public or to establish “religion-free spaces” in the public life of Bavaria. Shall one remove the “Patrona Bavariae – the Mother of God – to whom Elector Maximilian I dedicated the country [of Bavaria]?” Shall we now remove “all the numerous field crosses, shrines and chapels which make Bavaria so beautiful?” asks Seewald. Or, shall we start with “the removal of Christmas, Easter, Pentacost and other Christian feast days established by the state?” The freeing of official buildings (such as schools and courtrooms) of crosses, adds the author, was what “the Jacobins in the French Revolution, the Communists in the Soviet Union, and the Nazis in Germany have done.”
With a little impish impetus, the German journalist proposes that – if one really wants to promote the separation of church and state – one starts with the ending of the system of the Church state tax, where the state even collects for the church the church tax and then hands over to bishops their “generous salaries,” in the specific case of Marx 12,500 Euros per month.
Seewald is to be lauded for his own signs of indignation about the public statements of a high-ranking representative of the Catholic Church. He is followed here by two other German journalists who also have some prominence: Alexander Kissler and Jan Fleischhauer. Both authors are known to our readers for their intelligent, witty, and quite strong critique of Pope Francis in the past. Both men – together with Peter Seewald – are examples of hope for Germany, because they show that some Germans are still able to use their intelligence fearlessly for the sake of truth (other prominent examples being, of course, Cardinal Joachim Meisner and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller).
Both Fleischhauer and Kissler point also to the irony of the fact that Marx himself has been shown to remove the (pectoral) cross when it seemingly might be “offensive.” Next to the well-known case of Marx removing the cross when visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Kissler also shows how the cardinal removed the cross when welcoming (Muslim) immigrants at the Munich main railway station.
Fleischhauer himself shows the inner contradiction of Cardinal Marx who opposes the politization of the cross (with regard to the recent political decision publicly to display the Christian cross in Bavaria), yet who at the same time is, as the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, responsible for many of its own political statements. “In truth,” says Fleischhauer, “it is the German bishops who are responsible for the politization of the Church, and not people like Söder [the Bavarian governor].” The German bishops, he adds, are always there “when it is about picking up the keywords of the liberal Zeitgeist.” This journalist thinks that Marx should rather be concerned about “the profanization of the Faith for the sake of political purposes,” rather than about the fact “that a governor nails a cross on the wall.”
Similar to Seewald, Fleischhauer says that, were he the governor of Bavaria, he would pick up on Marx’ words and cancel the state church tax and the religion classes in public schools, as well as the permitted presentation of papal Masses by public (state-funded) broadcasters. He detects in Cardinal Marx a strong set of “double standards.”
For Alexander Kissler, Marx is now working on a “Christianity without profession,” which of course “cannot exist.”Against Marx, Kissler says, the majority of the Bavarians – 54% – agree with Governor Söder’s decision to publicly display crosses. Thus, he explains, one cannot say about Cardinal Marx that he is attentive “to the sensitivities of the people.” After quoting Marx’s words that Söder’s decision is now bringing “unrest, division” into the families and parishes, Kissler comments: “He who thinks that it needs political decisions in order to divide families and parishes, of course does not know either of them.”
Moreover, Kissler also points out the prominence of Marx’s words when he says that such “a trend toward an ecclesiastical removal of the cross” is more prominent in light of the fact that “Marx is the leader of the German Bishops’ Conference.” Otherwise, one might just call it “a personal allergy against the cross.” The German journalist also challenges Marx for his words that “he who hangs up the cross has to live up to its standards,” saying that this same man does not himself want to be measured by that same measure. Here, Kissler mentions the two above-mentioned cases where Cardinal Marx cravenly removed his pectoral cross in order not to give “offense” to others.
Thus, Kissler sees that Marx wishes to “shrink down” the cross, refer it to a minor role, placing it, instead, into the private realm. Elsewhere, out in the world,” he adds, “the Church has to talk the way Marx himself likes to talk: politically.” “His [Marx’] heart just flowed over,” explains the journalist, “when he was able to praise his namesake Karl,” just after he himself had been “vexed by the burden [“Krux”] of the cross.”
Here, Kissler also points to a recent statement by a biblical scholar from Vienna, Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger, who explained that every political system is in need “of a metaphysical-religious foundation.” As this scholar shows, even Emperor Constantine knew that to be so when he publicly established Christianity as the “normative foundation of a state.” Kissler himself even quotes this professor of Catholic theology, and in the sense that the Bible also gives us guidance about the “limits of unlawful power.” “Why should not the state of Bavaria symbolically profess its adherence to this [criterion]?” Kissler himself asks. He fears that, when the Church representatives are promoting laicism (laïcité), “the Church abolishes herself.”
As a final quote from Kissler, we may mention here that he also speaks of the “fickleness” of Marx’ statements, and he adds that “some voices say that they [these wavering statements] have always been a problem.” In this context, we may add, at the end of this lucid and fiery set of criticisms, that Cardinal Marx has once more (as he did earlier with regard to the blessing of homosexual couples) openly changed his mind, of course without apology. He now explains that the public display of crosses is a “wonderful occasion” to remember the “Christian image of man” and the duty to work in this sense. Will the real Cardinal Marx stand up? And how long will the German bishops tolerate him as their leader? Or will they elect a bishop like Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer who immediately and unambiguously rushed to the defense of the Christian cross in public places?