Bishop taints traditionalists with being extreme right wingers

Theme week "Shift to the right in Germany" - What our society needs now (3)

Overbeck: "New right" wants to stir up fear, solutions are not of interest

Bishop Overbeck is a reformist on moral matters.  Anything that gets in his way, he will brand as "extreme"

Franz-Josef Overbeck in front of a traffic sign "turn right" Photo: Nicole Cronauge (Diocese of Essen)

How dangerous is the shift to the right in Germany? In a theme week, gets to the bottom of this - for example with Franz-Josef Overbeck, Bishop of Essen.

The rise of the AfD, and with it radical right-wing, racist and anti-democratic positions in Germany, is worrying. How serious is the situation? How resilient is society? What can the church do? In a theme week, asks clever minds for their assessment. Every day. Today: Franz-Josef Overbeck, Bishop of Essen, military bishop and social bishop of the German Bishops' Conference until 2021.

In current polls, the AfD is at 21 percent and thus in second place among the parties in the Bundestag. At the same time, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution clearly sees extreme right-wing and anti-constitutional positions in the AfD. How dangerous is this situation?

Our democracy is under massive pressure in these times. From the outside by autocrats who do not even shy away from a war of aggression. But also from within by those who offer temptingly simple and convenient answers to the difficult questions of our time. These simple answers all come at a high price. They seek to convince by weakening confidence in our democracy. For they rely on the right of the strongest and the destructive power of indifference. Our democracy, on the other hand, lives from the strength of the law and from people standing up for the values that are described in the Basic Law, among other things.

Some people speak of an exhausted society: Corona, war and climate, refugee movements and economic stagnation are taking their toll on people. An ideal breeding ground for a creeping radicalisation of society?

Sharply rising prices for food and energy, an impending severe recession, the wars in Europe and the world, and the constant increase in social complexity are very serious challenges. This creates fear and insecurity. Many people are longing for the certainties of past times that suddenly no longer apply. The past is usually glorified, even though there is nothing wrong with a glorified view of the supposedly good old days. A new strength for the present always grows out of the power of memory. In the shape of the new right-wing parties, however, we encounter an aggressive and dangerous version of this backward-looking attitude. There, a nationalistic and self-centred 'new us' is presented as the 'simple solution', which is supposed to work through demarcation. Of course, at the expense of those who are not supposed to belong to this 'we'.

In the CDU, too, positions close to the AfD are increasingly being voiced, for example on refugee policy. How does that fit with the C in the party name?

Right-wing parties do not choose the path of critical and reason-based discourse, but often use images of disruption and fear to achieve their political goals. All democratic parties of the centre can only be warned against this, because this strategy is anti-human. This is especially true of refugees, who are being turned into enemies of the 'new us'. New right-wing parties pursue the goal of a strong and sovereign nation state with a population that is as homogeneous as possible and clearly defined borders that promise unambiguity - geographically, economically, culturally, religiously and privately. In the worldview of the new right, no group contradicts this political promise of new national strength as obviously as the refugees. They stand for ambiguity instead of unambiguity, for religious and cultural diversity instead of (apparent) simplicity and unambiguity, for cross-border mobility instead of isolation, and for the challenges of a globalised world threatened by climate change, to which answers can only be found together that can be sustainable in the future. This irredeemable promise of demarcation and unambiguity makes it obvious that right-wing political offers simply ignore the challenges mentioned and are not even interested in solutions.

In parts of your Diocese of Essen, a multicultural society has long been a reality. What can Germany learn from this reality - both positively and negatively?

The multicultural society has simply been a reality here for several generations and naturally also brings with it problems in living together that should not be concealed, for example in the area of educational justice, the fight against poverty, but also in the area of crime. Local politics in particular continues to have very hard work to do here in the Ruhr region, but it is done by those in positions of responsibility in the awareness that problems can only be solved step by step.

In the Westphalian Catholic Münsterland, where you also come from, the AfD still can't get a foothold; in the most recent NRW state election in 2022, the party received just 2.2 per cent in the city of Münster. How do you explain that?

One explanation is certainly that the rather affluent University city of Münster is home to many very well-educated and internationally networked people who face few fears of decline. In addition, the Catholic character in Münsterland could play a certain role. The strength of the CDU in the post-war period was, among other things, connected with the clarity that there was and is always a demarcation from right-wing parties.

Does the Catholic Church position itself clearly enough on this shift to the right?

I experience this on many levels and do it myself again and again in all clarity.

In view of its loss of relevance on this issue, what clout does the Catholic Church still have in society as a whole?

As the Church, we are one social actor among many on this issue and will only convince with good arguments. However, it is extremely important for the Church to be a very clear and audible member of the chorus of those who resolutely stand up for our liberal democracy. For it is about the rule of law, about freedom, equality and dignity of all people as persons, about a social market economy and ultimately also, time and again, about the freedom of opinion and religion of all.

In the Catholic Church, too, there are clear restorationist tendencies with a tendency towards a clearly conservative, delimiting profile; here, too, experts speak of a shift to the right. How do you assess this development?

I view this development with great concern. However, I would not use the term conservative here, because we are talking about religious-reactionary movements, which in my opinion are more likely to be described as belonging to the identitarian environment. In this dimension, these are quite new phenomena that dismiss other religious interpretations as "heresies" and consider themselves in possession of the one absolute truth. In a way, they are in fact the religious equivalent of the new political right, with not infrequent direct links. I am doing everything in my power to work towards keeping these tendencies in our Church as small as possible.


Cathcon:  the Catholic Church came into being by naming heresies for what they are.  A world which does not understand truth will soon decay into barbarism. 


Kathleen1031 said…
Spoken like a true, slithering snake.