The bishops in the southern German state of Bavaria sharply criticized the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party Thursday after it made gains in state elections.
Members of the Freising Bishops’ Conference said Nov. 30 that they were “shocked by the rise of political forces that advocate inhumane positions,” after the AfD came in third place in October’s state elections.
The AfD, commonly described as far-right or hard-right, reportedly won the support of 14% of Catholic voters, just below the 14.6% that the party gained among all voters.
In a statement at the end of a Nov. 29-30 meeting, the regional bishops’ conference said: “A clear line must be drawn against right-wing extremists. The bishops also made it clear that it is unacceptable for Christians to vote for parties that spread nationalist, racist, or anti-Semitic opinions, or tolerate them in their ranks. The bishops cannot see how anyone with such views could take on responsibility in the Church.”
“They are concerned about democracy, as there are parties that use the free constitutional order to ultimately abolish it. The Alternative for Germany must be counted among these parties.”
The bishops added that the decision of the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution to monitor the party “makes it clear that there are reasonable grounds to assume that the AfD is anti-constitutional.”
Speaking at the end of the bishops’ conference meeting in Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said he believed that membership of the AfD was incompatible with holding Church offices.
But the Archbishop of Munich and Freising suggested that decisions on Church offices should be made at a local level, rather than via a blanket ban.
“I’m hesitant about putting the rules in writing at the moment,” he said.
The comments by Marx — the coordinator of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy and a former president of the German bishops’ conference — follow an appeal in August by Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), for AfD members to be excluded from Church offices.
Stetter-Karp said that by “offices” she meant all positions within Germany’s extensive world of Catholic associations, from parish councils to daycare centers.
She argued that a ban was necessary because the party had “moved further and further to the right” since it was founded 10 years ago and “it is clear that anti-Semitic, racist, inhumane attitudes and statements have no place in a Catholic organization.”
“Active support for the AfD contradicts the basic values of Christianity,” she said.
Her remarks prompted a backlash from AfD leaders and supporters, as well as debate among legal experts about whether a ban was possible or prudent.
Augsburg’s Bishop Bertram Meier was asked in a September interview whether AfD members should be allowed to serve as lectors or help in the distribution of Holy Communion.
He said: “Party membership alone is not a criterion for excluding people. In such cases, it’s about seeking a conversation. If we start to exclude people, we are only pushing them into a perhaps extreme corner.”
In November, Catholic officials in the state of Saxony-Anhalt welcomed a decision by the state’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution to classify the AfD as a “confirmed right-wing extremist movement.”
The AfD was founded in Germany in 2013 to compete in that year’s federal election on a platform of abolishing the euro, the currency of 20 European member states.
Going into the 2021 federal election, the AfD campaigned against further coronavirus lockdowns, receiving 10.3% of votes but emerging as the largest party in the states of Saxony and Thuringia, located in former East Germany.
Among the policies in its current program is a commitment to preserving “the sovereign, democratic nation-state,” introducing Swiss-style referendums, the immediate closure of borders to end “unregulated mass immigration,” and measures to make Germany “more family- and child-friendly.”
It also says: “We reject all efforts to declare the killing of the unborn a human right.”
The Freising Bishops’ Conference, founded in 1850, includes the bishops of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, with its suffragan dioceses of Regensburg, Passau, and Augsburg, and the Archdiocese of Bamberg, with its suffragan dioceses of Würzburg, Eichstätt, and Speyer.