German Cardinal’s critical remark on Islam

1250.jpgIn statements endorsed by the ruling Christian Democratic Union party and harshly criticized by MPs, Germany’s top cardinal has warned against “uncritical tolerance” which could lead to Islam enjoying equal standing with Christianity in the country, Deutsche Welle reported on Friday, June 22.

“The neutrality of the state regarding individual religions must not be confused with indifference and uncritical tolerance toward the impact of religions on society,” the German news network quoted Cardinal Karl Lehmann as saying. Lehmann, the head of the German conference of bishops, expressed concern about religious freedom leading to all faiths being treated equally regardless of the size of their flock and their history.


He pointed to Christianity’s role in shaping European history and even its legal culture. Ronald Pofalla, the general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party, said Lehmann was right to say Islam could not be afforded the same legal standing in Germany as Christianity.


“Unlike Christianity, Islam is not in Europe’s cultural centre and is not reflected in everyday life in the same way,” Pofalla said in a statement.


“Only those who are conscious of their cultural and social roots can freely and openly stand up for the rights of people of different faiths,” he added.


Germany’s constitution obliges the state to maintain strict religious neutrality. Germany, the land of Pope Benedict’s birth, is home to some 3.2 million Muslims, over half of whom are of Turkish origin. Germany is Europe’s second-biggest Muslim population after France.


German MPs, however, blasted Lehmann’s statements, saying they were stirring social unrest. The leader of the Green party’s parliamentary group, Volker Beck, said Germany’s constitution required Islam be treated the same as Christianity.


“The Cardinal is wrong if he concludes that Europe’s or Germany’s undoubtedly Christian character infers a legal discrimination of other religious communities,” Deutsche Welle quoted him as saying.


Lale Akgün, a Social Democratic parliamentarian in charge of Islam issues, said Lehmann’s statements were unrealistic and explosive.


“Whoever says that Islam cannot be put on an equal legal footing (as other religions) is stoking social unrest,” she said.

Lehmann’s comments come amid a debate in Germany about the construction of a large mosque in the western city of Cologne, which many local residents oppose.


“I don’t want to say I am worried, but I have an uneasy feeling,” Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne said of the mosque in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday.


Meisner, who last year banned Catholic children from praying with Muslim classmates, said a real test of religious tolerance would be whether Christians could build churches and worship freely in Turkey, as Muslims can in Germany.


Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor, said in April she expected Turkey to take action to show it was tolerant of Christianity.

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