Former German bishop criticises cutbacks hitting the poorest

By Ecumenical News International
29 Jun 2010

The former leader of Germany's Protestant's, the Rev Margot Kässmann, has criticised her country's government in an interview for cut-backs affecting the poorest in society.

In the 21 June 2010 interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Kässmann has referred to "enormous public pressure" that public figures face in carrying out their duties.

"We should be careful that social peace is not threatened," Germany's former top Protestant bishop told Spiegel, in her first wide-ranging interview since resigning as bishop of Hanover and chairperson of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) after being found driving with more than the legal limit of alcohol in her [body] in February.

Kässmann pleaded that the rich should contribute more to government savings and said it is wrong that 30 billion euros are being saved from the poorest in society. "The end of solidarity in a society is a big problem," she said, noting that in the Bible stinginess is seen as a sin.

Kässmann, aged 52 and divorced, became the youngest chairperson of the EKD council, when she was elected in October to succeed Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who retired at 67. The EKD is the umbrella [organisation] for 22 German regional Lutheran, United and Reformed churches. It accounts for most of the country's 24 million Protestant Christians.

She was feted during her first public appearances at May's Ecumenical Kirchentag in Munich.

Kässmann was bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover from 1999 until February. In May, at her first service after her resignation, 1500 people attended in Hanover's Market Church. Many carried placards demanding she should return as bishop.

In Der Spiegel's cover story, Kässmann speaks about life after her resignation and comments on people in the public eye saying, "The pressure is merciless."

Some observers said she was treated more harshly because she was a woman and because of her January criticism of German military involvement in Afghanistan, which she repeated in her latest interview.

She resigned a day after her offence became public. She told Der Spiegel that she only found out from reading the newspapers how much she was over the limit and realised she had no right to privacy anymore. She was fined 3600 euros for negligence and her driver's licence was revoked until the end of 2010.

"I made a huge mistake. And for mistakes one has to take responsibility," said Kässmann. "However I have to say for negligence this whole issue has taken on a greater dimension - not only for me, but also for my colleagues and for the Church. For that, I am sorry."

Kässmann will from September teach a semester at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She hopes when she returns in January the church will have a job for her.

"I have no job, no house and now my youngest daughter has left home," the mother of four daughters said. "I will start anew without family."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

[Ekk/3]

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