Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cardinal Says "Degenerate"; Fracas Ensues

At the weekend, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne -- the leader of the conservative wing of German Catholicism, viewed as the German Pope's closest ally in his native land -- sparked a tempest at the opening of an art museum:
A Roman Catholic cardinal used the term "degenerate" at the opening of an art museum on the ruins of a church, drawing criticism Saturday for employing a phrase strongly linked to the Nazi persecution of artists....

Meisner, the influential Cardinal of Cologne, warned in a sermon at the opening of a museum built on the ruins of Cologne's St. Kolumba church that it was dangerous to allow art to break away from religion.

"Let us not forget that there is an indisputable connection between culture and religion. Where culture is uncoupled from ... the worship of God, religion becomes moribund in rituals and culture degenerates," Meisner said Friday.

In German the phrase "degenerate art," or "Entartete Kunst," carries deep associations with the Nazis' attempts to ban artworks they deemed did not uphold their ideals. In 1937, they staged an exhibit in Munich called "Entartete Kunst," which included 650 artworks confiscated from museums and considered unacceptable, including many by Expressionist artists.

Germany's main Jewish group said the cardinal's remarks went too far.

"Meisner ... is a notorious spiritual firebrand who tries not just to test the boundaries of what is allowed, but to deliberately overstep them," said Stephan Kramer, a leader in Germany's Central Council of Jews said in a statement.

Meisner was one of three German bishops who made controversial comments comparing the separation barrier in the West Bank to the Berlin Wall. He also recently criticized the taste of a leading artist who designed stained glass windows for Cologne Cathedral.

Theodor Lemper, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and responsible for culture in Cologne, said use of the word "entartete" should be taboo.

"In addition, culture does not grow only out of the worship of God," Lemper was quoted as saying by the Cologne daily Express. "The absolutism preached by Cardinal Meisner is false and inappropriate."
Lest anyone be surprised, Hans Kung jumped into the fray:
[T]heologian Hans Kueng assailed Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, saying in remarks reported Sunday that the cardinal had used a "primitive" word....

Kueng told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Meisner should not use "primitive language" to discuss complex topics.

The Swiss-born retired theologian, who has clashed with church conservatives such as Meisner in the past, also disagreed with the substance of Meisner's views.

"All true art is about the meaning of life, but you can't ban artists from portraying chaos, ugliness and evil," said Kueng, who lives in Tuebingen, Germany.
Aside from hosting World Youth Day 2005, the cardinal is best known for spontaneously bursting into tears at emotional moments -- the most famous of which took place in the Sistine Chapel as his friend's election to the papacy became apparent.

Given the red hat in 1983 at the age of 49, Meisner was named to the archbishopric of Cologne -- one of the world's richest local churches, and Germany's largest -- in 1988 after eight years as bishop of Berlin.

Born on Christmas Day, the Lord's 2007th birthday will be the cardinal's 74th.