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Association of German Catholics, Founding Manifesto (July 8, 1872)

The anti-church legislation passed by the German national and state governments led to the further politicization of Catholics and their organization in various associations. Though stressing patriotic loyalty, the founding manifesto of the Association of German Catholics (1872), “To German Catholics,” demands defensive action against anti-church measures. It calls on all Catholics, in the name of truth and justice, to join the struggle against the state, against the liberal press and liberal parliamentarians, and against all those who threaten “the overall existence of the Catholic Church in Germany.” The manifesto offers familiar counsel: “to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's.”

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The situation of German Catholics has without doubt become very serious. Anyone who until now has suffered delusions on this point must at last have learned something from the most recent events. Dark days have befallen Catholic Germany, ones that could not have been imagined by the loyal sons of the church who bled for the Fatherland in the last war; Catholics have experienced things that necessarily introduced a lamentable note of discord into the victory cheers of the new German Reich. We are living in conditions that can justifiably be called persecution of the church, even if anti-church newspapers were not already speaking daily of the “battle of extermination” to be conducted against the church.

[Our adversaries] favor division and apostasy within the Catholic Church, even at the risk of causing serious offence to faithful parishioners – offence for which it is difficult to atone and which virtually authorizes sacrileges likely to bring forth divine judgments more horrible than those looming already. These people meddle with the teaching activities of the church in the name of the state and arrogate for themselves the authority to decide on the essential content of Catholic doctrine: They describe a dogma – which we Catholics adhere to as a divinely revealed truth, solemnly announced by the church in the ecumenical council – as being contrary to human law, contrary to the requirements of the times, contrary to state laws, and thus subversive. They treat those bishops who resist such action by state authorities with apostolic courage as violators of the law; they seek to thwart or at least weaken the effects of their judicial authority; and they threaten these allegedly recalcitrant subjects with the prospect of legal proceedings or the freezing of temporalities.* In this way, these adversaries twist the Christian state’s duty to protect the church into absolute power over it.

However, lest we remain uncertain about the scale of anti-church efforts, the church is being deprived of its thousand-year-old privileges in the field of schooling, of which it is an original founder; even the church’s divine mission regarding education in general is being encroached upon. Moreover, emergency laws against the clergy are being passed. The Reichstag itself stirs up justified outrage among millions of Catholics by persecuting the venerable orders of the Catholic Church – one of the genuine ignominies of the century and a mockery of the law. Above all it does so by exposing the worthy Society of Jesus to the most unfair hatred and to new slander that has been refuted long ago. Without the slightest sense of propriety it aims to drive from German soil the celebrated preachers of truth, the splendid educators of youth, the comprehensively trained scholars, the spotlessly pure priests, and the good Samaritans of the last war, labeling them the dangerous dregs of society.

* The secular property and assets of the church – ed.

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