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Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich

GERMANY, May 1, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the liberal head of the German Bishops’ Conference who believes the Catholic Church owes an apology to gays, has strongly criticized Bavarian Premier Markus Söder for requiring crosses to be installed at the entrance of all state administrative buildings by June 1.

The cardinal's comments have earned a rebuke from the Pope's representative to Austria, who said he is “quite sad and ashamed” over them.

Söder's office announced the decision on April 24, claiming it is intended to “express the historical and cultural character” of Bavaria and to be “a visible commitment to the core values of the legal and social order in Bavaria and Germany.”

Premier Söder, a Lutheran who belongs to the Christian Social Union (a political party that has ruled Bavaria since 1957), later tweeted that displaying the crosses is an “avowal of our Bavarian identity and Christian values.”

The predominantly Catholic Bavaria, the birthplace of Joseph Ratzinger, already has crosses installed in public schools and courtrooms.

Speaking with German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Marx claimed Söder was causing “division, unrest and animosity” with his plan, and that Söder was “expropriating the cross in the name of the state.”

Despite supporting the display of crosses in public schools and courtrooms in the past, the Munich-based prelate, who receives a monthly stipend of 12,500 euro from German taxpayers, further condemned the initiative.

“You don't understand the cross if you only see it as a cultural symbol,” Marx proclaimed. The cross is “a sign of opposition to violence, injustice, sin and death, but not a sign [of exclusion] against other people.” It’s not for the state to explain the meaning of a cross.

Catholic News Agency reports that Söder responded to the cardinal by telling German media, “Of course, the cross is primarily a religious symbol.” However, he said, the cross also carries with it basic foundations of a secular state.

Not all Catholic prelates in Germany opposed the Premier’s decision. Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg welcomed the move, saying, “The cross is the epitome of Western culture. It is the expression of a culture of love, compassion and affirmation of life. It belongs to the foundations of Europe.” It “should be widely visible.”

Bishop Voderholzer explained that crosses hang in classrooms “not in order to glorify violence, as some unenlightened critics of the cross think, but in order to present to the young people the model for true human dignity and freedom.”

Voderholzer's remarks are indicative of the growing split among German Bishops, who are engaged in what has been called a small-scale civil war over the reception of the Holy Eucharist for Protestant spouses of Catholics.

The issue has become so divisive that seven German Bishops asked Rome to rule on the proposal, which was first approved by a majority of the German Bishops conference in February. Cardinal Marx will meet with Pope Francis in Rome on May 3 to discuss the matter further.

Marx’s comments were also met with opposition from the Apostolic Nuncio to Austria.

In an address Tuesday at the Cistercian Abbey of the Holy Cross in the village of Heiligenkreuz, Archbishop Peter Stephan Zurbiggen stated, “As nuncio and as representative of the Holy Father, I am quite sad and ashamed that there are, of all people, bishops and priests who have to issue criticisms when in a neighboring country crosses are being displayed. That is a shame! One may not accept this!”

Referring to Cardinal Marx’s heavily criticized decision to remove his pectoral cross while he visited the Jewish Wailing Wall and the Muslim Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in 2016, the Nuncio continued: “When they make a pilgrimage into the Holy Land and are ashamed to carry the cross, for some kind of reason, then I am ashamed, too.”

Premier Söder’s decision has caused reverberations in the Bavarian political arena as well.

Since 2015, Germany has seen an influx of more than 1 million people from the Middle East thanks to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open borders immigration policy.

Many Christian leaders predict that the current low birth-rate among Europeans coupled with the importation of persons from foreign lands will result in the continent being more Muslim, more multicultural and secular, and less Christian in the decades ahead.

Nascent political parties like Alternative for Germany (AfD), a five-year-old nationalist party who counts opposition to Islam and the preservation of what it calls “German heritage” as its primary goals, have seen an uptick in support over the past several years, resulting in Parliamentary victories that have made it the third-largest political party in the country.

Critics believe Söder’s decision is actually a political ploy meant to win over AfD supporters who reside to the right of his Merkel-allied Christian Social Union party, which some say is in trouble of losing to the AfD in upcoming Bavarian elections. Söder denies any such intent.

Whether the premier will win over nationalists is yet to be seen. AfD co-leader Alice Weidel seemed eager to dismiss Söder’s decision, calling it “usual gesture politics” while stating “conservatives refuse to protect our basic values with real actions.”  

AfD's Beatrix von Storch, a former member of the European Parliament who has served as the party’s Deputy Leader since 2015, tweeted that with Cardinal Marx “at the helm” Christianity is “surrendering.” By not wanting to have crosses in public buildings, he is allowing Islamization to have space to grow.

Bavaria will elect its new government on October 14. On March 6 of this year, the Bavarian government dropped its plan to challenge a 2017 parliamentary decision that legalized same-sex “marriages.”