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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Resigning

Margot Käßmann predigt in der Marktkirche in Hannover während des Weihnachtsgottesdienstes. Sie ruft zu mehr Frieden und Miteinander auf


Anyone following Irish current affairs in the past few months will hardly have failed to notice the subject of resigning – I use this term in preference to “resignation” as it implies a certain ambiguity in the sense that one might also comment that anyone who has been following Irish current affairs in the past few months will hardly have failed to experience a feeling of resignation. A number of bishops have (reluctantly) offered their resignations following the scandals resulting from the investigation of child abuse in the church. Some others have not. Two government ministers have resigned in the past week as a result of what can be best described as inappropriate conduct.

This evening, the top headline in the German media is the resignation of Bishop Margot Kässmann, the head of the Council of Protestant Churches in the country, both from her position as bishop of Hannover and that of head of the Church Council. Kässmann was the first woman to be elected to the top post in the German protestant churches last October. The choice was seen in some conservative church circles as questionable as Kässmann had divorced her husband in 2007. She is a woman of principle who is not afraid to raise issues – difficult issues. She has been openly critical of the position of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality and the use of condoms. She would rather see unused churches demolished than used as mosques. Her sermons last Christmas and New Year in which she asked hard questions of German society in many areas, but particularly regarding the role of German soldiers inAfghanistan, made headlines and led to robust dialogue with politicians.

Last Saturday evening, Margot Kässmann ran a red light inHannover and was stopped by the police. A blood-test showed that she was drunk. The news broke yesterday and the Church Council issued a statement of support for her. At a short press conference this afternoon she announced her resignation. “I would no longer have had the same freedom to critically voice ethical and political challenges. The harsh criticism evoked by a quotation from a sermon like ‘nothing is all right in Afghanistan’ can only be borne when one’s own personal integrity is unreservedly acknowledged.” Her resignation has led to comments of respect and regret from all sides of political and public life in Germany

I am not generally an admirer of church functionaries, however this evening I have nothing but admiration for Margot Kässmann. Her resignation is an act of courage, a clear recognition of the responsibility involved in holding a position of leadership, particularly when this position defines itself or is defined as one which gives a particular authority regarding moral and spiritual issues.

The contrast to the Irish Catholic bishops is, to say the least, striking. Given the current daily increase in reports of abuse of children within the German Catholic Church, I also have the feeling that some bishops here may be feeling a little uncomfortable this evening. Of course, that would only be the case if they are really listening to what she said today; the freedom to critically voice challenges to society from a privileged public position is only there when one’s own personal integrity is unquestioned. Somehow I have the feeling that this moral clarity is something absent in the vast majority of Catholic bishops and church leaders.

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