The Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki (pictured), has publicly criticized leaders of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party for their statements against Islam, insisting that “whoever says ‘yes’ to church towers must also say ‘yes’ to minarets.”
The Cardinal was reacting in particular to recent statements by AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch, who told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper: “Islam is in itself a political ideology that is not compatible with the constitution.”
“We are in favor of a ban on minarets, on muezzins and a ban on full veils,” said von Storch, who is also a member of the European Parliament.
In his videotaped response, Cardinal Woelki suggested that all religions are equally well suited to German culture and law. “The religion of Islam is compatible with the German constitution just as Judaism or Christianity are,” he said.
“Anyone who denigrates Muslims as the AfD leadership does should realize that prayer rooms and mosques are equally protected by our constitution as our churches and chapels,” he said.
The AfD, a right-wing, populist, and Euro-skeptic party has steadily increased in popularity, especially among the many who believe that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has mishandled the migrant crisis.
Woelki, however, questioned whether “one really has to take the AfD seriously.”
“We do not need any such alternative for Germany,” he said. “The freedom of religion in our country is without alternative.”
“It is especially our painful German history,” he said. “Never again must people in this country be marginalized or persecuted for their race, ethnicity or religion.”
Another German prelate got into hot water in 2006 for suggesting that Islam might not be the religion of peace that many assume it to be.
In his now famous “Regensburg address,” Pope Benedict XVI commented on the historical relationship between Islam and violence.
In that talk, Benedict cited the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus regarding the relationship between religion and violence. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” the quote read.
Pope Benedict XVI, a scholar who wrote extensively about religious freedom, insisted that all religions are not the same, and do not integrate equally well into western society.
In his 2009 encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), Benedict argued that not all religions contribute equally to the development of individuals and societies. Some, in fact, may obstruct it. “Religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism,” he wrote, “nor does it imply that all religions are equal.”
Benedict also proposed that in order to safeguard society, political authorities must in some way distinguish among different religions. “Discernment is needed regarding the contribution of cultures and religions,” Benedict stated, “especially on the part of those who wield political power.”
Even before becoming pope, Joseph Ratzinger wrote on the differences between religions, noting that “anyone who sees in the religions of the world only reprehensible superstition is wrong” but also “anyone who wants only to give a positive evaluation of all religions… is equally wrong.”
In his own critical considerations of religions, Ratzinger wrote with brutal honesty, observing that there are “deviant, esoteric forms of religion on offer” as well as “pathological” forms of religion. He wrote of religions that are “obviously sick” and religions that are “destructive for man.” He asserted, moreover, that with the detachment of religion from reason, “pathological forms of religion are constantly increasing.”
In his critiques of Islam, Ratzinger suggested that the Muslim understanding of the human person and society, especially as regards the separation of church and state, is light years away from the Judeo-Christian worldview that undergirds western society.
Ratzinger wrote that the interplay “of society, politics, and religion has a completely different structure in Islam” than it does in the West. He went on to say that much of today’s discussion in the West regarding Islam “presupposes that all religions have basically the same structure, that they all fit into a democratic system with its regulations and the possibilities provided by these regulations.”
This would seem to be the position taken by Cardinal Woelki.
Yet this is not consistent with the facts, Ratzinger argued, but rather, it “contradicts the essence of Islam, which simply does not have the separation of the political and the religious sphere that Christianity has had from the beginning.”
This underlying difference in understanding goes well beyond political or social theory regarding the nature of the state. It touches virtually every aspect of human existence.
Ratzinger continued: “Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything. There is a very marked subordination of woman to man; there is a very tightly knit criminal law, indeed, a law regulating all areas of life, that is opposed to our modern ideas about society.”
The conclusion he reached was remarkably severe. He warned that we must have a clear understanding that Islam “is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society.”
In this evaluation, Pope Benedict seems closer to the position of the AfD than to that of Cardinal Woelki.
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