News Analysis

Germany: Cross purposes

On collision course with Cardinal Marx

A cardinal opposes plans to hang crosses in Bavarian state buildings

The decision by the government of Bavaria to require that every entrance to state buildings display a cross by June 1 has received global attention. At home, the move by Premier Markus Söder (pictured) and the governing Christian Social Union (CSU) has fuelled public debate about the role of Christian values and identity across an increasingly divided Church and society at large.

Perhaps predictably, given that the state goes to the polls in October, the premier’s push prompted accusations from opposition parties of electioneering. The Social Democrats (SPD), left-wing and Green parties decried the decision as showing anything but “Christian values”.

Christian Lindner of the liberal FDP went so far as to claim that “the way Markus Söder and the CSU permanently instrumentalise religions for party politics is reminiscent of [Turkish president] Erdoğan”.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx also criticised the decision in an interview published with Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Archbishop of Munich and Freising accused Söder of fostering “division, unrest and adversity”, denouncing attempts at “appropriating” the cross as a merely cultural symbol.

On the other hand, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, in a statement published on the diocesan website, asserted that the “cross is the epitome of Western culture. It is the expression of a culture of love, compassion and affirmation of life.”

As Bishop Voderholzer pointed out, the cross is commonly displayed across Bavaria, from the summits of the Bavarian Alps to public classrooms and courtrooms, where it has long been required to be displayed by law.

This is not to exclude anyone, Catholic commentator Birgit Kelle wrote in Die Welt, but is an assurance predicated on Jesus’s words that his kingdom is not of this world. “Every Muslim, every atheist and every other believer can feel safe under this cross,” she said. “It does not stand for a claim to power, but for a self-obligation to treat each person equally and decently, regardless of their origin, faith, ability or gender.”