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The Shifting Alliances Among Catholics And Protestants In Germany

Analysis: In the birthplace of Martin Luther, the relationship among Roman Catholicism, traditional Protestant churches and newer evangelical movements offers a laboratory for how different strands of Christianity today are united and divided by ethics mo

Monument to Martin Luther in Dresden (rs-foto)
Monument to Martin Luther in Dresden (rs-foto)
Gernot Facius

BERLIN -- When Pope Benedict XVI addressed the German Parliament last year, its president, Norbert Lammert, created a stir among fellow Catholics when he called himself a "Catholic with Protestant leanings."

Having also criticized the celibacy requirement for Roman Catholic clergy and hinted that reforms in general were long overdue in the Catholic Church, Lammert is seen as an example of Catholics who favor a "Protestantization" agenda – a more liberal approach to sexuality, feminism, bioethics, women in the clergy.

It is a very public example of what German Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller refers to as "the wrong ecumenical track," one that would lead to "self-secularization." Müller's view reflects how uneasy the Roman Catholic hierarchy feels about evangelical counterparts who have everything that Catholic reformers want.

Yet at the same time, Lammert's personal admission has altered the wider discussion in Germany around ecumenism, ie, the relationship among different Christian faiths. It has also raised the basic question of what Protestantism actually means today. Are the mysteries of Christianity on the way out, leaving in their wake organizations focused on welfare, feel-goodism, psychology and moralizing?

Theological rubble

At a meeting of the German Bishops' Conference, an internationally reputed theologian was quoted as saying that ecumenism – while leading to profound mutual understanding about basic beliefs -- was only interesting for Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians who "shared the basic belief that the manifestation of God in Christ is not a myth." Ecumenism was useless among liberal Catholics who reduced faith to a cultural phenomenon and liberal evangelicals for whom Protestantism meant being "against the Pope and Rome and authority in general."

Theologians on both sides of the fence have cleared away a lot of rubble, not least as regards Wittenberg reformer Martin Luther who, for Catholics, has gone from being a heretic and destroyer of Church unity to a teacher for all Christians, a "great figure of renewal" in the words of Cardinal Karl Lehmann.

Still, there are new areas of conflict requiring work. For example: to what extent does the German Evangelical Church (EKD) still support Lutheran positions? Or: what would re-integrating the arch-traditionalist St. Pius X Brotherhood into the Roman Catholic Church mean for the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s?

The most interesting ecumenical developments are the new coalitions forming around ethics, not doctrine. Notable for example is the shift in attitude of biblically fundamentalist Protestants towards Rome; and vice-versa, as these evangelicals are no longer seen as annoying sectarians but as allies who praise the Pope for his warnings about the "dictatorship of relativism." They agree, furthermore, on issues such as protection of human life, family values, and stem cell research.

But while such a traditionalist alliance is forged, Protestant national churches in Germany are opening their rectories to ministers in same-sex partnerships, and blessing same-sex marriage. This tension inevitably creates serious problems for ecumenical relations within the Protestant community, with an impact on Roman Catholics as well, who actively work so that all Christians might speak with one voice.

But that doesn't look to be in the cards right now. If the refrain "doctrine divides – service unites' marked the early phases of the ecumenical movement, more suited to today would be something along the lines of "ethics divide – doctrine unites." Ecumenism remains a rich but complicated challenge.

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Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

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