Cardinal criticized for remarks seen as reminiscent of Nazi terminology

By Michael Lawton

Catholic News Service

COLOGNE, Germany (CNS) – German officials have criticized a German cardinal's remarks which they said were reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.

While marking the opening of the Kolumba archdiocesan art museum, Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner said Sept. 14: "Where culture becomes disconnected from religion, from the veneration of God, religion rigidifies into ritualism, and culture becomes degenerate. It loses its center."

The term "degenerate" was used by the Nazis to attack modern art.

Nazis put on the "Degenerate Art" touring exhibition of 650 works confiscated from 32 museums as part of propaganda efforts against "negro influence" and "Jewish and Bolshevik cultural decay." The "degenerate" artists were persecuted and forced into exile.

Reacting to Cardinal Meisner's remarks, Bernd Neumann, German minister for culture and the media, said, "Even if it's been taken out of context, this statement using the word 'degenerate' is completely unacceptable in choice of words and in content."

The speaker of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, said the cardinal's remarks contained many intelligent comments on the relationship between art and religion. But, he added, it was "as annoying as it is incomprehensible" that the cardinal should have used the term "degenerate."

Cardinal Meisner's press office said that the cardinal regretted what he called a "misunderstanding." It said the cardinal rejected accusations that he had adopted Nazi terminology in using a word "which had been misused by the Nazis."

However, commentators pointed out that the term "degenerate" was not taken out of context. The subsequent reference to a "loss of center" was reminiscent of the title of a book published in 1948 by Hans Sedlmayr, an apologist for Nazi cultural policy.

Thomas Sternberg, professor of art and liturgy at the University of Muenster and spokesman on cultural affairs for the lay Central Committee of German Catholics, told the Cologne newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger he was surprised that Cardinal Meisner, who strongly supported the new museum, committed such an "idiocy."

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