Outspoken German Protestant leader resigns after drink-driving offence

Outspoken German Protestant leader resigns after drink-driving offence

By staff writers
25 Feb 2010
Bishop Margot Kaessmann

A German Lutheran bishop, elected in October to lead the 24-million Protestant members of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), said she is resigning days after she was apprehended for a drink-driving offence.

Bishop Margot Kaessmann said she will immediately give up her posts as a bishop and as head of the EKD, but will continue as a pastor, reports Ecumenical News International (ENI).

"I cannot ignore the fact that my office [has] been damaged," she said. "My heart says quite clearly that I cannot remain in office with the authority that is required."

When she made her announcement at a specially convened press conference she was flanked by her four grown-up daughters.

Widely seen as someone whom ordinary people can relate to, Kaessmann has worked to revive the church in Germany, which has been losing members in recent years.

She drew criticism from many politicians, and praise for peace and justice activists, last month - when she denounced Germany's military mission in Afghanistan in a courageous New Year's sermon in Berlin.

As one of the few religious leaders in a NATO country to raise the issue, she said she could not justify the German mission in Afghanistan from a Christian point of view.

Kaessmann, chairperson of the EKD, the umbrella organisation of Germany's Protestants, was stopped by police while driving in Hanover, Germany, on 20 February. She allegedly ran a red traffic light, and her blood alcohol level was three times over the legal limit.

"Last Saturday, I made a big mistake," the BBC reported Kaessmann telling journalists yesterday. "I hereby resign from all my church responsibilities."

The EKD had reported earlier that all 14 members of its leadership council voiced their confidence in Kaessmann during a conference call.

Bishop Kaessmann, aged 51, was the first woman to become the highest representative of German Protestants when she was elected last year. The German church leader, a mother of four children, became the youngest-ever chairperson of the EKD council. She was elected to succeed Bishop Wolfgang Huber, aged 67, who retired at the end of 2009.

The EKD is the umbrella organisation for 22 regional Lutheran, United and Reformed churches. It accounts for most of the country's Protestant Christians.

Kaessmann had been bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover since 1999.

"Margot Kaessmann is a gifted theologian, an outstanding global religious leader, a prophetic voice for justice and peace, and a valued colleague," said the Rev Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation, in a statement. "I have communicated to her my gratitude for her leadership and my commitment to holding her, her family and church in prayer."

"(Her) resignation is a great loss for the Lutheran World Federation and the EKD. We will continue to pray that God will give her strength and opportunities for continued witness and service," he added.

Known by some in the media as the "pop bishop," Margot Kaessmann has been a regular on television talk shows.

As a divorced woman, she also gave encouragement to those trying to repair fractured relationships and lives.

Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders have already expressed their regret about Bishop Kaessmann's resignation.

German chancellor Angela Merkel praised her, despite their public disagreements over the war in Afghanistan.

[Ekk/3]

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