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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bishops take on political right-wing

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Bishops against populists throughout the world

The AfD in Germany, the FPÖ in Austria, Trump in the USA: Populism seems to be gaining ground worldwide. This is challenged by the church. For in fact, it depends on the separation from the state. But more and more bishops are departing from this principle – and are making criticism

The state and the church are strictly separated in democratic countries in the best case. But sometimes the spiritual power raises its voice in the political debate. In the past few months, this has been the case several times around the world, supported by the growth of populist forces. The most recent example comes from Austria, where church representatives found warning words before the upcoming national election. "The aggravation in the words and the gestures hurts me," said the newly-appointed Innsbruck Bishop Hermann Glettler at the beginning of the month.

Fear of "real harm" for democracy

Above all the style of the current election campaign excited Glettler's displeasure. Offensive statements by the party leaders about each other led to discussions all over the country. A scandal was even associated with the Social Democratic SPÖ, which had specially engaged a specialist for "dirty election campaigning". The Austrian Caritas , too , had a serious warning: "If this continues, I am afraid of real harm to our democracy," said President Michael Landau a few days ago. At the same time, he insisted on "basic principles such as cohesion, respect, honesty and a minimum of decency".
According to the recent survey, three quarters of the population in Austria believe in the Catholic faith. Therefore, objections by church representatives have weight from the outset. However, objections such as these are nevertheless remarkable and owed to the exceptional political situation of the country: the election procedure of the new Federal President, Alexander Van der Bellen, who took office at the beginning of the year, lasted seven months. Unprecedented antics and mishaps in the course of this period were detrimental to the democratic discourse, at least to the extent that they were playing into the hands of the right-wing populist, FPÖ.

One week after the Austrians, the Czechs are also called upon to elect a new parliament. There, too, the bishops are currently concerned about political culture. In a statement, the bishops' conference called on the citizens of the country to participate in the election earlier this week, not following "cheap promises of rapid change". Rather, the electorate should prefer decency. This would "not be replaced in the political scene by arrogance and vulgarity".

The populism warning of the Czech bishops can be understood as a wink in the direction of the favourite, Andrej Babis. An investigation into the embezzlement of EU subsidies has just been initiated against the billionaire. His "Political Movement ANO 2011" is currently the second strongest force in parliament and according to current polls would clearly win the upcoming election. However, observers see in the party a populist protest movement without any substantive policies.
French bishops against the Front National

But just as populists were ideologically more clearly positioned in recent months, the Church interfered in political debates. Even in France, where laicism as a republican achievement is otherwise respected from all sides, many bishops broke a promise in the past presidential election. For, indeed, the chief shepherds were anxious to keep away from every conception of partisanship; especially after the departure of the French Catholic candidate, Francois Fillon . Just a week before the election day in May, two bishops expressed their opposition to the right-wing candidate, Marine Le Pen . The populist was still considered a favourite in the polls, but ultimately fell sharply against the independent, Emmanuel Macron,

For quite other reasons than their French brothers in office, the Polish bishops have also recently been subjected to political criticism. In the most Catholic state of Europe, the church has traditionally been on the side of the government since the turn of the century ; also because political opposition still generates scepticism in the young democracy. But the majority government of the national conservative party, PiS, which has been in power for two years, has put the traditional tolerance of the bishops to the test.

When the new government began to remove power the constitutional court of the country at the end of 2015, the church remained calm. Later the Episcopal Conference called for a pacification of the embittered debate. The shepherds, on the other hand, did not comment on the threatened dismantling of the rule of law. However, one year later, when the conflict between the government and the opposition had become even sharper, their demand became clearer: both sides would have to stop talking in slogans and talk with each other.

Polish bishops criticize the government

In September 2017, there was finally clear and clear criticism of the government . The bishops turned against the idea, virulent in government circles, of demanding reparations for the Second World War from Germany. For the bishops, who had made one of the strongest signs of reconciliation after the war, through the reconciliation with their German brothers in office, this was an unacceptable affront against newly won friends.

Populist provocations are currently also the order of the day in the USA and concern the Catholic Church in the country. The relationship of the bishops to the competing parties is ambivalent as in no other democracy as in the United States. While a broad support for Hillary Clinton emerged before the presidential elections last November, the US bishops deliberately withdrew. From their point of view, the Democrat did not only address ethically questionable positions, for example, in matters of life protection. One month before the election day, moreover, complaints were made about Catholics from Clinton's election campaign. In the end, the chief shepherds declared that the issue of life protection was a crucial test for Catholics and indirectly helped Republican Donald Trump.



After the billionaire had won the election with the help of a majority of the Catholic electorate, the bishops began to make progress in abortion. At the same time, it quickly became clear that the Church would have to contradict the Republican in most other questions. Whether migration, the entry ban or the North Korean conflict: on all the decisions which Trump exploits for propaganda, there are criticisms from the bishops. It was only on Wednesday that the Bishop's conference called Trump climate policy a "disappointment".

Marx wants "verbal disarmament" after the German Parliamentary election

The bishops in Austria and the Czech Republic can still hope that they will not lose out after the elections in their respective countries. But it is more likely that the populists will also celebrate their successes there. Thus, despite all warnings from the Church, the entry of the AfD into the recently elected Bundestag was also foreseeable. The German bishops, however, remained on their line to reject populism. In a first statement, the President of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, called for "verbal disarmament" after the election campaign. He especially hoped that he would not have to hear in the future: "the language of hatred and exclusion".

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