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German cardinal says fellow bishops hypocritical to condemn Nazi-era predecessors

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller warned the German bishops not to throw stones while sitting in a glass house.
Wed May 13, 2020 - 9:36 pm EST
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Cardinal Brandmüller addressing the 'Humanae Vitae at 50' conference in Rome, Oct. 28, 2017. Diane Montagna / LifeSiteNews

WÜRZBURG, Germany, May 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — German cardinal Walter Brandmüller criticized his country’s bishops for accusing their predecessors of being “complicit” during the Second World War, warning that today’s prelates, who he says are acting out of “current political correctness,” are themselves guilty of an “eloquent silence” when it comes to abortion, gender ideology, and homosexual practices.

“What will people say about this in the year 2100? Our generation is truly sitting in a glass house itself. It should not throw stones,” the cardinal wrote in an article first published by Die Tagespost (read full article below).

The German bishops’ conference stated in an April 29 23-page document, released 75 years after the end of World War II, that their predecessors, “by not countering the war” with an “unequivocal ‘no,’ instead most of them strengthening the will to persevere ... made themselves complicit in the war.”

“Both in September 1939 and afterwards the open protest of the German bishops against the National Socialist war of annihilation failed to materialize,” the bishops continued in their document.

“Even in view of the monstrous crimes against others, especially the Jews, who were discriminated against and persecuted as ‘racially foreign,’ hardly a voice was raised in the Church in Germany.”

For Brandmüller, today’s German bishops’ conference is trying “to come to terms with the past in the light of current political correctness.”

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Ninety-one-year-old Cardinal Brandmüller, who for more than a decade led the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, warned the German bishops not to throw stones while sitting in a glass house.

Brandmüller, one of the four signers of the dubia on questionable aspects of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, said “there will be no small amount to understand and no small number of embarrassing questions to be answered by our generation.”

He gave several examples, first talking about Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which upheld Church teaching that the use of contraceptives is immoral.

“Do we still remember the storm of protest, as furious as it was rabble-rousing, with which the 1968 ‘Katholikentag’ [a regular large gathering of Catholics] in Essen responded to Paul VI’s ‘pill encyclical’ Humanae Vitae, long since recognized as prophetic? At that time, only two of the German moral theologians — Gustav Ermecke and Bernhard Schöpf — had sided with the Pope.”

Cardinal Julius Döpfner, Brandmüller pointed out, even “embezzled” a letter representing the position of the bishops of East Germany, which was fully supportive of the pope.

Brandmüller, who is a recognized expert on Church history, especially the history of the councils, then turned to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which talks about moral absolutes.

The German bishops, as well as many theologians, “did not want — in the sense of that fatal situation ethics — to admit any longer that there are actions which are always and everywhere reprehensible, independently of any situation, as for instance the killing of an innocent man. A burning problem, if one thinks of the mass killing of the unborn.”

While pushing an anti-Catholic agenda, “there is an eloquent silence about gender ideology while talking loudly and clearly about the recognition of homosexual practice — and other such things,” Brandmüller said.

He concluded, “What will people say about this in the year 2100?”

The German cardinal even questioned the wisdom of the famous penitential service of March 12, 2000, in which he asked for the forgiveness of all the sins committed by members of the Church in the last millennium.

“Was it possible to repent of the sins of past generations and ask for forgiveness for them? One could only beat one’s own breast and say mea culpa, but not confess the sins of others, people said at the time.”

Brandmüller appeared to compare the German bishops, who many decades after the end of World War II still feel obliged to talk about their predecessors’ alleged guilt, to a “scrupulous person who is nevertheless constantly tormented by the feeling of guilt, never coming to rest.”

“In particular, it would have been important to clarify whether it was at all necessary, useful, sensible for the German bishops’ conference to issue a declaration on the topic of World War II,” he said. “Did the episcopates of other nations affected by the war in any way do the same thing?”

***

Full text of Cardinal Walter Brandmüller’s article below:

The past appears quite involuntarily in the light of the present, and it requires the conscious exclusion of current events if history is to come into view. This means that the historian, indeed anyone who seriously deals with history, must consciously place himself in the horizon of experience of those whose – at that time – judgments, actions and omissions he wants to understand. This naturally requires a certain intellectual discipline. It is a demand of fairness, because the actors of that time could not know what effects their actions or omissions would have in the future.
On the other hand, today’s observer of the past often does not know what the actors of that time knew, what induced them to their actions in the first place. For these very reasons, the historian should be careful to avoid acting as the prosecutor, defense counsel, and judge of the past, but least of all to act as an executioner. For this, he is lacking conditions and competence. His role is more that of the investigator, the detective. Finally, the historian must not forget a principle already in force in ancient Rome. De internis non iudicat praetor: On the inner life of the human being, his conscience, the judge cannot make a judgment.

There, now, our attention turns to that exceedingly impressive penitential service of March 12 of the Holy Year 2000, in which Pope John Paul II asked for the forgiveness of all the sins committed by members of the Church in the last millennium. The Pope performed this act despite the reservations that had been raised against it.

Was it possible to repent of the sins of past generations and ask for forgiveness for them? One could only beat one’s own breast and say mea culpa, but not confess the sins of others, people said at the time. And today, similar questions are to be addressed to the authors of that paper of the German Bishops’ Conference that deals with the position of the German bishops on the Second World War. This text raises some questions that should have been asked before proceeding to publish it. In particular, it would have been important to clarify whether it was at all necessary, useful, sensible for the German Bishops’ Conference to issue a declaration on the topic of World War II. Did the episcopates of others nations affected by the war in any way do the same thing? This concerns the “why.”
Now the next question, “what for.” We remember well – one example is enough – the impressive exchange of request for and granting of forgiveness between the German and Polish bishops. That was a difficult but nevertheless successful coming to terms with the past. The fact that the German episcopate did not consist without exception of martyrs and confessors has also been recognized and confessed often. Even outstanding episcopal figures such as Graf von Galen, Johann Baptist Sproll, Graf von Preysing, even Michael von Faulhaber, Michael Rackl, and Matthias Ehrenfried – to name but those few – were “questioned” rather than adequately acknowledged.

But now, once again, we are probably beginning to come to terms with the past in the light of current political correctness – or why, for whatever reason. What it means from a socio-psychological point of view for a society – here we are referring to the Catholic Church in Germany – to deal with its own past in such a way would indeed be worth considering.

When it comes to the sin and failure of an ordinary human being, the following applies: once recognized, repented of, known and forgiven, the following applies: “Your sins are forgiven – go in peace.” The scrupulous person who is nevertheless constantly tormented by the feeling of guilt, never coming to rest: a case for the psychiatrist, not for the confessor. Does this apply not only to the individual, but also to communities? Peoples, the Church? What does “coming to terms with the past” mean in this context? Indeed, peoples can also recognize and rehabilitate injustices that have occurred in a similar way. The admission of Germany into the League of Nations after World War I and the sensational creation of three German cardinals – von Galen, von Preysing, and Frings – by Pius XII in 1946 were widely understood and appreciated in this sense.

That does not mean, obviously, that one does not have to learn from the past, and if necessary also make reparations. The latter has happened, for instance, as regards the foreign forced laborers who were used in church institutions during the war, or the so-called “Heimkinder” [children living in a children’s home]. Such considerations should finally also be decisive with regard to the research and appreciation of Church behavior in the Second World War.

So before one sits down on the judgment seat and breaks the stick, one should consider all this. Above all, one should not forget that – who knows how soon – our descendants will sit in judgment also about us today, as those who have so assiduously come to terms with the past and beat the breast of the fathers. Unless, unlike us, they prefer to understand first.

In that case, however, there will be no small amount to understand and no small number of embarrassing questions to be answered by our generation. Let us ask the crucial question, “What is your opinion of Rome?” Some bullet points may suffice: Do we still remember the storm of protest, as furious as it was rabble-rousing, with which the 1968 “Katholikentag” [a regular large gathering of Catholics] in Essen responded to Paul VI’s “pill encyclical” Humanae vitae, long since recognized as prophetic? At that time, only two of the German moral theologians – Gustav Ermecke and Bernhard Schöpf – had sided with the Pope. They were mercilessly punished for it.

Does one still remember that Cardinal Döpfner, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, simply embezzled that letter from Berlin Cardinal Bengsch to the German Bishops’ Conference, in which the bishops of the East Germany committed themselves to the Pope’s encyclical? Only in this way could the “Königstein Declaration” have come about, in which the German Bishops’ Conference left the use of contraceptives to the judgment of the individual conscience.

This was a breach in the dam. John Paul II’s repeated request to revise the fatal declaration was answered by the DBK with icy silence. The German-speaking moral theologians took a similar approach to the truly groundbreaking encyclical Veritatis splendor by the “Polish Pope,” which affirmed the timelessly valid principles of ethics. They did not want – in the sense of that fatal situation ethics – to admit any longer that there are actions which are always and everywhere reprehensible, independently of any situation, as for instance the killing of an innocent man. A burning problem, if one thinks of the mass killing of the unborn. But on the part of the German Bishops’ Conference, only a droning silence can be heard, while in the USA, for example, numerous cardinals and bishops lead the “marches for life.”

No wonder that the German Bishops’ Conference also supports the morally highly questionable activity of “Donum Vitae” [a counseling organization issuing declarations that allow women to get an abortion]. Where was the Catholic protest when Chancellor Helmut Kohl paid for the reunification of Germany by adopting the East German abortion law? Does one also still think of the fact that for decades the theological education of female candidates has been pursued – for now – for the ordained ministry of women – however that may be understood –, promoted by Cardinal Lehmann, among others? At the same time there is an eloquent silence about the gender ideology, while talking loudly and clearly about the recognition of homosexual practice – and other such things. What will people say about this in the year 2100? Our generation is truly sitting in a glass house itself. It should not throw stones.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller’s article was originally written for Die Tagespost. It has been translated by Martin Bürger and is published here with permission.


  german bishops conference, germany, nazis, political correctness, walter brandmuller

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