Crossing Boundaries and Fear Holes: Catholics and the New Right

When it comes to the relationship between Catholics and right-wing populist or even right-wing extremist currents in society, the keyword “immunity” is often mentioned. Catholics, it is said again and again, are immune to the anti-democratic and inhuman attitudes of the right-wing pipers because of their Christian faith and the values ​​that come with it – the key word being charity. As proof of this thesis, reference is often made to the critical and sometimes resistant attitude of Catholics during the National Socialist era or the AfD’s below-average electoral results in even more Catholic regions.

However, the Catholics’ negative attitude towards the right-wing scene is not as clear as these examples suggest. On the contrary: In the right-wing – mostly conservative – fringes of the Catholic environment, there are overlaps and affinities with right-wing populist ideas on many subjects. This was pointed out by experts this week at the conference “The Catholic Church and the Radical Right” of the Catholic Competence Center for Democracy and Human Dignity.

“Some Conservative Christians Keep Crossing Borders to the Right.”

– Quote: Publicist Liane Bednarz

The head of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), Gregor Podschun, emphasized that the Catholic Church was “relatively accessible” to the ideas of the New Right. This begins on a small scale, for example, with the skepticism that representatives of both environments share towards the established media – the key word is “lying press”. The connections were even clearer in the “March for Life”, where Christian “life defenders” marched in Berlin in mid-September alongside right-wing activists and politicians such as the deputy chair of the AfD’s parliamentary group, Beatrix von Storch, according to Podschun.

Publicist Liane Bednarz made a similar statement. Some conservative Christians repeatedly “cross the line to the right”, and clearly right-wing ideas are socially acceptable in this environment. But what exactly is that environment? According to Bednarz, who in 2018 published the book “Die Angstprediger” about right-wing Christians’ infiltration of society and churches, the affinity for right-wing positions in the Catholic field can be seen above all in some – not all – representatives. of two groups: “zealous supporters” of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who described himself as “loyal to the Pope” and yet repeatedly despised his – in their eyes weak – successor Francis, as well as traditionalists, such as the Second Vatican Council (1962- 1965), and the reforms decided there refused.

“Anyone who is very conservative and pious is marginalized in society”

As further examples, the publicist at the conference in Nuremberg mentioned the Catholic aid organization “Kirche in Not”, which in 2015 organized a panel debate with the title “Against the flow of opinion, dictatorship and political correctness” and thus adopted signal words from the right wing. populists, and the Dominican Father Wolfgang Ockenfels. At an AfD congress in 2017, he called for bishops critical of the AfD to be addressed as “Mr. Hohlkopf” in future. “It shocked me,” said Bednarz, who also offered a possible explanation for the drift of former conservative Christians to the right-wing political camp in his remarks: “Anyone who is very conservative and pious is marginalized in society. And many cannot do that. which endures.” Most recently, when the CDU moved into the center of society under Angela Merkel, many conservatives became politically homeless and consequently searched for political alternatives, often finding them in the AfD.

Image: ©Private

The publicist Liane Bednarz emphasized at the Nuremberg conference that the right-wing environment repeatedly refers to Christianity in a very specific way in order to give itself a serious look.

However, it also became clear at the conference: The connections between the right wing of the Catholic cosmos and right-wing populist movements and parties are not one-way – on the contrary. Again and again, the right-wing milieu refers specifically to Christianity to give itself a serious look, Bednarz emphasized. An example of this is the well-known right-wing publisher Götz Kubitschek and his wife Ellen Kositza. In a report on the television station 3sat, Kubitschek once spoke of the German people as a “design of God”. Kositza, on the other hand, deliberately staged herself in front of Christian icons and a rosary in a TV interview.

The theologian Sonja Strube made a similar statement – and referred to the historical basis for the connection between the right-wing scene and the Catholic Church. According to the theologian who works in Osnabrück, the new right in particular draws heavily on the Catholic anti-modernism of the period between 1850 and 1950 in terms of content and ideology. Catholic anti-modernism’s ability to connect with right-wing “fragments of ideology” manifests itself, for example, in the devaluation of other religions, a pronounced friend-or-foe mentality, the demand for conformity and subordination, and a rejection of democracy and human rights.

“The New Right disguises itself to appear religious instead of right-wing”

Strube explained that the New Right resorts to Catholic anti-modernism for various reasons. Among other things, one hopes for a global network with other right-wing Christian groups as well as an association with right-wing Christian environments and thus also a linking of one’s own anti-democratic statements with similar statements from a venerable institution such as e.g. church. In this context, Strube urgently warned against falling into the trap of the right’s “manipulation strategies”: “The New Right engages in mimicry; it disguises itself to appear religious rather than right-wing.”

“As a church, we should emphasize repentance over innocence and learn from mistakes rather than hope that we are infallible.”

– Quote: Theologian Sonja Strube

Part of this right-wing strategy is, for example, to give one’s own publications a scientific and theological touch, even if it is just an internet blog. As an example, the Austrian theologian Alexander Tschugguels named the “Saint Boniface Institute”, which had already been interviewed by Steve Bannon and published texts by authors who had also published with Götz Kubitschek.

Chic for “dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue” with right-wing Catholics

But how should the church, how should the Catholics relate to right-wing fellow believers? The ideas for this seemed rather helpless at the conference in Nuremberg. Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick asked for “dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue”. The church must try to “reach, seize and convert” people who follow right-wing slogans. Fear often lies behind radical attitudes. It is therefore important to “get out of the holes of fear with people who have drifted far to the right.

Sonja Strube also appealed to the church itself to correct its own misjudgments from the time of anti-modernism. “As a church, we should focus more on repentance than on innocence and learn from mistakes instead of hoping that we are infallible,” the theologian said. It also became clear that to effectively counter right-wing slogans and strategies, more information about the scene is needed. Above all, the experts pleaded for more research – for example into the question of how the right-wing Catholic milieu and in particular the media popular with it – were financed and warned of the need for funding from politics and the church.

By Steffen Zimmerman

Leave a Comment