Roman Catholicism in Germany

Roman Catholicism in Germany

The German Catholic Church, part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, is under the leadership of the Pope, curia in Rome, and the Conference of the German Bishops. The current president of the conference is Robert Zollitsch, the new archbishop of Mainz and eighty-eighth successor to St. Boniface. The German church, thanks to a compulsory church tax, is the wealthest Catholic Church in Europe. It is divided into 27 dioceses and archdioceses. All the archbishops and bishops form the Conference of the German Bishops.

Secularisation has had its impact in Germany as elsewhere in Europe; nowadays less than one third of the total population is Catholic (31.2% or 25,684,890 people as of December 2006) [ [ Eckdaten90-06.xls ] ] compared to 45% in 1970 (when the count was taken in West Germany alone), before the 1990 unification of the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany) as per the German RC Church. Furthermore, quoting the same source, a mere 14.0% of German Catholics (or about 4% of the total German population) attended mass on Sundays in 2006. Apart from its demographic weight, German Catholicism has a very old religious and cultural heritage which reaches back to both St. Boniface, apostle of Germany and first archbishop of Mainz, and to Charlemagne, buried at Aachen Cathedral. It also boasts of one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Germany, Cologne Cathedral. Other notable Catholic cathedrals are in Freising, Mainz, Fulda, Paderborn, Regensburg, Frankfurt, Munich (Frauenkirsche), Worms, Berlin (St. Hedwig's), Bamberg, and Trier.

Catholic dioceses of Germany

There are 7 archdioceses and 20 dioceses.

History of Catholicism in Germany

Christianization of the Germans

The earliest stage of Christianization of the various Celtic people and Germanic people occurred only in the western part of Germany, the part controlled by the Roman empire. Christianization was facilitated by the prestige of the Christian Roman Empire amongst its pagan subjects and was achieved gradually by various means. The rise of Germanic Christianity was at times voluntary, particularly among groups associated with the Roman Empire. After Christianity became a largely unified and dominant force in Germania, remaining pockets of the indigenous Germanic paganism were converted by force. But aspects of the primeval pagan religion have persisted to this day, including the names of the days of the week.

As Roman rule crumbled in Germany in 5th century, this phase of Catholicism in Germany came to an end with it. At first, the Gallo-Roman or Germano-Roman populations were able to retain control over big cities such as Cologne and Trier, but in 459, these too were overwhelmed by the attacks of Frankish tribes. Most of the Gallo-Romans or Germano-Romans were killed or exiled. [Kurt Hoppstädter and HansWalter Herrmann (Publishers, Geschichtliche Landeskunde des Saarlandes, Book 2: Von der fränkischen Landnahme bis zum Ausbruch der französischen Revolution. Selbstverlag des Historischen Vereins für die Saargegend e. V., Saarbrücken 1977, Pg 17/18] The newcomers to the towns reestablished the observance of the pagan rites.Kurt Hoppstädter and HansWalter Herrmann (Publishers, Geschichtliche Landeskunde des Saarlandes, Book 2: Von der fränkischen Landnahme bis zum Ausbruch der französischen Revolution. Selbstverlag des Historischen Vereins für die Saargegend e. V., Saarbrücken 1977, Pg 25] The small remaining Catholic population was powerless to protect its faith against the new ruling Frankish lords.

But as soon as 496, Frankish King Clovis I was baptized together with many members of his household. In contrast to the eastern German tribes, who became Arian Christians, he became a Catholic. Following the example of their king, many Franks were baptized too, but their Catholicism was mixed with pagan rites.

Over the next eight centuries, Irish, Scottish, and English missionaries reintroduced Christianity into the German territories. During the period of the Frankish Empire, the two most important of these missionaries were Columbanus, who was active in the Frankish Empire from 590, and St Boniface, who was active from 716. The missionaries, particularly the Scottish Benedictines, founded monasteries (Schottenklöster "Scottish monasteries") in Germany, which were later combined into a single congregation governed by the Abbot of the Scots monastery at Regensburg. The conversion of the Germanic peoples began with the conversion of the Germanic nobility, who were expected to impose their new faith on the general population. This expectation was consistent with the sacral position of the king in Germanic paganism: the king is charged with interacting with the divine on behalf of his people. Hence the general population saw nothing wrong with their kings choosing their preferred mode of worship. The favoured method of showing the supremacy of the Christian belief was the destruction of the holy trees of the Germans. These were trees, usually old oaks or elm trees, dedicated to the gods. Because the missionary was able to fell the tree without being slain by the god, his Christian god had to be stronger.

The pagan sacrifices, known as "blót", were seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods and attempts were made to forecast what the coming season would be like. Similar events were sometimes convened in times of crisis, for much the same reasons.See Viga-Glum’s Saga (Ch.26), Hakon the Good’s Saga (Ch.16), Egil’s Saga (Ch. 65), etc.] cite book| last =Adam of Bremen| first =| authorlink =| coauthors =| title =Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae pontificium Book IV| publisher =| date =| location =| pages =Ch.26-28| url =| doi =| id = ] The sacrifices, consisting of gold, weapons, animals, and even human beings, were hung on the branches of a holy tree.

The Hiberno-Scottish mission ended in 13th century. Supported by native Christians, they succeeded in Christianizing all of Germany.

Catholicism as the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire

In medieval times, Catholicism was the only official religion within the Holy Roman Empire. (There were resident Jews, but they were not considered citizens of the empire.) Within the empire the Catholic church was a major power. Large parts of the territory were ruled by ecclesiastical lords. Three of the seven seats in the council of electors of the Holy Roman Empires were occupied by Catholic archbishops: the Arch-chancellor of Burgundy (archbishop of Trier), the Arch-chancellor of Italy (archbishop of Cologne), and the Arch-chancellor of Germany (archbishop of Mainz).

The Protestant Reformation

Burghers and monarchs were united in their frustration at the Catholic church not paying any taxes to secular states while itself collecting taxes from subjects and sending the revenues disproportionately to Italy. Martin Luther denounced the Pope for involvement in politics. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms justified the confiscation of church propertyFact|date=May 2008 and the crushing of the Great Peasant Revolt of 1525 by the German nobles. This explains the attraction of some territorial princes to Lutheranism. Along with confiscated Catholic church property, ecclesiastical (Catholic) dominions became the personal property of the holder of the formerly religious office, for the right to rule was attached to this office.

On September 25, 1555, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and the forces of the Schmalkaldic League signed the Peace of Augsburg to officially end the religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants. This treaty made legalized the partitioning of the Holy Roman Empire into Catholic and Protestant territories. Under the treaty, the religion of the ruler (either Lutheranism or Catholicism) determined the religion of his subjects. This policy is widely referred to by the Latin phrase, "cuius regio, eius religio" ("whose reign, his religion", or "in the prince's land, the prince's religion"). Families were given a period in which they were free to emigrate to regions where their desired religion prevailed.

The religious intolerance and tensions within the Holy Roman Empire were one of the reasons of the Thirty Years' War, which would devastate most of Gemany and kill twelve million people, two thirds of the population of the empire.

Secularization of church states in the aftermath of the French Revolution

In the war of the First Coalition, revolutionary France defeated the coalition of Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Britain. One result was the cession of the Rhineland to France by the Treaty of Basel in 1795. Eight years later, in 1803, to compensate the princes of the annexed territories, a set of mediatisations was carried out, which brought about a major redistribution of territorial sovereignty within the Empire. At that time, large parts of Germany were still ruled by Catholic bishops (95.000 km² with more than three million inhabitants). In the mediatisations, the ecclesiastical states were by and large annexed to neighbouring secular principalities. Only three survived as nonsecular states: the Archbishopric of Regensburg, which was raised from a bishopric with the incorporation of the Archbishopric of Mainz, and the lands of the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Saint John.

Monasteries and abbeys lost their means of existence as they had to abandon their lands.

Bismarck's Kulturkampf against the Roman Catholic Church

In the mid-19th century, the Catholic Church was also a political power, even in Protestant Prussia, exerting a strong influence on many parts of life. Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck tried to subordinate the Catholic Church in Germany to the state as he had the Prussian Protestant church, which was bound to the state in many ways and absolutely loyal to the emperor.

Kulturkampf (literally, "culture struggle") is the name for the attempt by the German state to diminish the influence of the Catholic Church on subjects of the German Empire. It manifested as a series of laws enacted between 1871 and 1887 under the influence of the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

The "kulturkampf" started with the "kanzelparagraf" ("pulpit statute", "paragraf" being jargon in German for "section of a legal code") of 1871. This was the addition of §130a to the German criminal code, which threatened clergy who discussed politics from the pulpit with two years of prison.

In March 1872 religious schools were forced to undergo official government inspection and in June religious teachers were banned from government schools. Under the May Laws, administered by Adalbert Falk, the education of clergy was to be monitored by the state, a secular court for cases involving the clergy created, and notification of all clergy employment required. In 1872, the Jesuits were banned and diplomatic relations with the Vatican broken off. In 1875 the civil marriage ceremony became a mandatory. Now a religious marriage required a preceding civil marriage.

On July 13, 1874 in the town of Bad Kissingen, Eduard Kullmann attempted to assassinate Bismarck with a pistol, but the bullet only hit Bismarck in the hand. Kullmann named the church laws as the reason for the attack.

The "kulturkampf" was not limited to the official Catholic Church. Pressure was put on the everyday life of Catholic parishioners. Catholics were suspected of ultramontanism, of being influenced by the political interests of the Holy See, a foreign power. Catholics were discriminated against by the state, especially in the areas of education and civil service. Even the exercise of faith was influenced or even restricted. When in Trier the Holy Tunic was displayed, pilgrims were assaulted.

Bismarck's attempts to restrict the power of the Catholic Church, represented in politics by the Catholic Centre Party, were not successful. In the 1874 elections, parties aligned with the Catholic Church doubled their representation in the parliament. The Catholic Church itself also grew stronger: many Catholic organizations were formed addressing all areas of life.

By now needing to counter the Social Democratic Party, Bismarck softened his stance toward the Catholic Church, especially with the election of the new Pope Leo XIII in 1878, and tried to justify his actions to the now numerous Catholic members of parliament by stating that the presence of Poles (who are predominantly Catholic) within German borders required that such measures be taken. In 1887, the official "Kulturkampf" was ended, but much of its discriminatory legislation, such as the anti-Jesuit laws, continued well into the 20th century.

Catholicism and the Third Reich

Before Adolf Hitler - raised as an Austrian catholic - rose to power, the Catholic church was in opposition to Nazism, because this ideology was deemed incompatible with Christian morals. Therefore, under threat of excommunication Catholics were forbidden to join the Nazi Party (NSDAP) or its organizations. The leaders of the NSDAP for their part shared the church's view about the incompatibility of national socialism and Christianity. [ [ Martin Bormann ] ] . However, many Catholics, like other large sections of German society, thought Hitler to be an opportunity to stop the evil of communism. The Nazi party seemed to be an ally and the church's ban on joining the NSDAP was lifted in 1933 with the Reichskonkordat between the German government and the Holy See.

In 1937, Pope Pius XI in the encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge (composed in German instead of the Church's official language, Latin), condemned Nazi ideology, notably the Gleichschaltung policy directed against religious influence upon education, as well as Nazi racism and antisemitism. Pius XI planned to strengthen these criticisms by the promulgation of another encyclical, Humani Generis Unitas, but his death in 1939 preempted that action. Massive Catholic opposition to the euthanasia program made the Nazi Party interrupt it in 1941 temporarily. As for Nazi anti-Semitism, only sporadically did German Catholics mount opposition to it in an active and open manner. Notable in this regard was the bishop of Münster, Clemens von Galen. Although a few German priests and parishioners were sent to concentration camps for opposing Nazism (for example, at least 305 Catholic priests had arrived at the camp of Dachau as of May 1942), but, as in other countries, the large majority of Catholics did not (openly) oppose the Nazis.

Unfortunately too many other Catholics, including some bishops, were obedient supporters of Hitler; this despite the fact the "reichskonkordat" proscribed any active political participation by the priesthood.

The Nazis saw themselves as a replacement of Catholicism that would coopt its cohesion and respect for hierarchy. In 1941 the Nazi authorities began to dissolve all monasteries and abbeys through occupation and secularization by the Allgemeine SS. In 1941 this "Aktion Klostersturm" (Operation Storm the Monasteries) was stopped because Hitler feared the increasing protests by the Catholic part of the German population. If these were to result in passive rebellions, the Nazi war effort at the eastern front would be harmed. [Mertens, Annette, "Himmlers Klostersturm : der Angriff auf katholische Einrichtungen im Zweiten Weltkrieg und die Wiedergutmachung nach 1945", Paderborn ; München ; Wien ; Zürich : Schöningh, 2006, pp. 33, 120, 126.]

Catholicism in the German Democratic Republic

After World War II the Catholics in the zone occupied by the Soviet army found themselves under a militantly atheist government. Many parishes were cut off from their dioceses in the western part of Germany.

The Soviet zone eventually declared itself a sovereign nation, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The GDR's constitution proclaimed the freedom of religious belief, but in reality the new state tried to abolish religion.

Most of the people in the territory of the German Democratic Republic were Protestants. With exception of the Eichsfeld, a small Catholic area in the northwestern part of Thuringia, which was a former property of the archdiocese of Mainz, Catholics were a small minority right from the start of Communist rule. In contrast to the Protestant churches, the Catholic Church endured the Communist order relatively unscathed. In 1950, 13% of the population were Catholics (versus 85% Protestants). Although about 1.1 million citizens, half of East Germany's Catholic population, left the GDR, in 1989 there were still about one million Catholics, about 6% of the population (versus 25% Protestants). [Dr. Bernd Schäfer, Kirchenpolitik und Säkularisierung in Ost und West ] The circumstance of being a tiny minority proved to be a substantial advantage. In the government's view, the population of Protestants was high enough to potentially endanger the atheistic state if it were to mobilize itself. Therefore, the system's main efforts to fight religion concentrated on Protestantism. As a result, the majority of atheists and agnostics registered in Germany today (29.6% in religion in Germany) are in the former East Germany.

The Protestant churches drew strong repression for a historical reason as well. The Protestant churches had had strong connections to most of the former political states (empires, etc.) that had over the centuries ruled one or another part of the territory of the GDR, while the Catholic Church had kept its distance from them (and they had kept their distance from the Catholic Church, as seen during the "kulturkampf"). The Catholic Church was thus used to existing without the help and even against the hostility of the state.

The present situation of Catholicism in Germany

Nowadays, the two Bundesländer where Catholics constitute the majority of the German population are Bavaria (south) (with as per 31 Dec 2006, 57.2 % of the Bavarian population being Catholics), and the smallish Saarland (west) (with 64.9% Catholics again as of 31 Dec 2006). Besides these Bundesländer there are areas of lesser significance of Catholic majority.

The state supports both the Catholic and Protestant churches, with each church making up about a third of the population. The state collects taxes for the churches and there is religious education in the schools, taught by teachers who have to be approved by the churches. Church taxes are "automatic paycheck deductions" taken from all registered church members, "regardless of how often members attend services." [ Niels Sorrells,"Luther's spiritual heirs face uncertain future, CHRISTIAN CENTURY, March 20, 2007, 16]

Catholicism in Germany today faces several problems.

* Traditionally, there were areas with Catholic majorities and areas of Protestant majorities. The mobility of modern society began to mix the population. Interconfessional married couples face the problem of not being able to share the same communion. [Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, "Katholikentag draws 20,000," THE TABLET, June 26, 2004, 26]

* Modern society is changing old structures. Catholic environments are disintegrating, though not as much in traditonal areas like Bavaria. [ Charles Sennett, "In a time of unrest, conflict met with contemplation," BOSTON GLOBE, April, 2005, Section A, 1] The number of Catholic churchgoers has decreased (from 22% in 1990 to 14% in 2006) and many have left the church altogether. [ [ Eckdaten90-06.xls ] ] Thus the biggest challenge facing the churches is to retain the registered, tax paying members (regardless of how often they attend services) to fund the Catholic church, especially its international relief organizations like Adveniat. (See Willkommen zum Adveniat-Blog, Adveniat Media Portal, etc.)

Pope Benedict XVI

The current Pope Benedict XVI, former Josef, Cardinal Ratzinger is a German (from Bavaria).


ee also

*Roman Catholicism by country
*Religion in Germany
*German Catholics

External links

* [ The Catholic Church in Germany]
* [ German Bishops' Conference]

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