- Battle lines drawn
This week produced the clearest evidence yet that the Synod Fathers are sharply divided between those who are supporting Pope Francis in his efforts to present a more pastoral vision of the Church and those determined first and foremost to emphasise its moral teaching
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The Church in the World
The two parties in Germany’s new Coalition Government have emphasised the country’s Christian heritage and the importance of the Churches’ role in society, in the accord cementing their new partnership. These roles have not been highlighted in such detail in previous government agreements.
Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union) failed to win an overall majority in the 22 September election. She will be sworn in on or near 17 December for a third term as Chancellor, heading a coalition with her former opponents, the SPD (Social Democrats).
Both coalition partners signed a 185-page agreement entitled “Shaping Germany’s Future”.
In its preamble, the agreement states: “We will intensively foster dialogue with the Christian Churches … They enhance the life of society and provide values which contribute to the social cohesion of our society … On the basis of our country’s Christian heritage, we espouse equitable social cooperation in diversity.” The agreement goes on to underline that the Churches’ contribution to German society is “indispensable”.
Both coalition partners commit themselves to supporting the controversial compulsory German church tax (8 per cent of net income deducted at source by the state) because they say it is the only way in which “the self-financed benefits for the well-being of society can be further guaranteed”.
The agreement also makes specific mention of the situation of Christians in the Middle and Far East and in North Africa. “Christians in these regions must have a future,” says the document, which underlines that Germany’s foreign policy will continue to champion religious freedom worldwide.
Fr Karl Jüsten, who heads the Catholic liaison office with the Bundestag in Berlin, welcomed the document. “I am truly glad that the Churches’ significance for society has been recognised and appreciated in this way,” he said, adding that the agreement reinforced the existing state-church relationship in the German constitution. “This is particularly welcome because state-church law is open to all religious communities,” he said.
The SPD had been persuaded to drop some of its proposed reforms, among them further separation of church and state, reducing state subsidies for Churches, and allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
Meanwhile, the SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, welcomed Pope Francis’ criticisms of the excesses of capitalism in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which the Vatican published last week. “If I had a wish, I’d ask Pope Francis to hold an address in the Willy-Brandt-House [the SPD headquarters in Berlin], but that would no doubt be presumptuous on my part,” he suggested.
“No Social Democrat could have formulated a better criticism of capitalism than Pope Francis has done,” the SPD?leader said.