Conference Report: 35th Annual Conference of the Schwerter Arbeitskreis für Katholizismusforschung

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 28, Number 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2022)

Conference Report: 35th Annual Conference of the Schwerter Arbeitskreis für Katholizismusforschung

By Sarah Thieme, WWU University of Münster, and Martin Belz, Institute for Mainz Church History

Conference organizers: Sarah Thieme, Center for Religion and Modernity, WWU University of Münster; Martin Belz, Institute for Mainz Church History; Markus Leniger, Catholic Academy Schwerte of the Archdiocese of Paderborn

Date: 19-21 November 2021

Location: Schwerte, Germany

This conference report was first published in German at H-Soz-Kult: Tagungsbericht 35. Jahrestagung des Schwerter Arbeitskreises Katholizismusforschung. 19.11.2021–21.11.2021, Schwerte, in: H-Soz-Kult 07.02.2022, online access at: We would like to thank Katharina Reuther (Münster) for assistance with the translation.

Approximately 40 scholars from the fields of church history and historiography took part in the 35th annual conference of the Schwerter Arbeitskreis für Katholizismusforschung (working group for Catholicism research, SAK). Organised by the new speakers Sarah Thieme and Martin Belz, the conference took place as always in cooperation with the Catholic Academy in Schwerte of the Archdiocese of Paderborn. The event focused on the presentation and discussion of ongoing research work on Catholicism from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. This year’s general debate was dedicated to the topic “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35) – Catholicism and refugees in historical and contemporary perspective.

The church historical presentation by DOMINIK HERINGER (Mainz) dealt with the Rheinischer Reformkreis in the twentieth century. Heringer located the hotspot of the circle, whose main concern was to secure a greater national independence of the German church from Rome, in the diocese of Aachen, which was newly founded in 1930. From there, the positions of the circle und its partly national socialist affinities resonated throughout Germany. As a result, church-wide battles broke out over whether and how to renew of the church. The presenter showed that Augustin Bea SJ played a leading role, one unknown until now, in monitoring the protagonists and their actions.

LEA TORWESEN (Bochum) provided an analysis of Christian-religious sites of memory. Her historiographical presentation focused on how the writing of church history had important aftereffects socially, culturally, and politically. Looking at the example of the Dortmund church Heilige Dreifaltigkeit (Holy Trinity) (1898), she elaborated on two competing stories of memory: the attribution of meaning as a community of workers in the coal and steel industry (part of industrial culture) and the currently more powerful coding as so-called BVB-founding church of those members of the youth fellowship who founded the football club Borussia Dortmund in 1909, after disagreements with the church community (part of football-fan culture). That collective memory operated selectively can also be seen in the second case study, the “Essen Catholic Day 1968,” which emerged as another site of memory because of its uniquely turbulent nature.  To this day, it is associated with protest signs, chants, and heckling. These memories erroneously made it appear that the Katholikentage (Catholic Day) were generally associated with protests. In reality, such protests did not take place in any of the other six Katholikentag-forums.

MAXIMILIAN KÜNSTER (Mainz) subsequently delivered a presentation about how Catholic seminary candidates personally experienced and interpreted the Second World War. His analysis of 867 field letters from Mainz seminarians addressed to their Head of Seminary from the battlefront, and also on other sources on teaching and studying in the years 1933-1945, allowed him to draw conclusions about how their social backgrounds and the interpretive framework they created to make sense of the war were connected.  As Künster showed, their war interpretation was influenced by the traditional socialisation in family and in seminary, as well as by youth organizations and the mindset of the NS-movement. The former became particularly clear in the reception of traditional war theology, the latter through a “communalization” (Vergemeinschaftung) of one’s own military service and the interpretation of the German-Soviet War as an “anti-Bolshevist crusade.”

SANDRA FRÜHAUF (Hamburg) presented her historical PhD project on the influence of post-conciliar priest and solidarity groups in the West German Catholic church and in the context of the transformation of society as a whole between 1965 and 1989/90. The priest and solidarity groups were established from 1968 onwards in West German dioceses to implement the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and to counteract restorative tendencies. By 1970 they were present in nearly every diocese. Initially, they were dedicated to solving inner church problems, but from 1971 onwards they turned increasingly to political and social issues. To assess which forms of protest the goals of the priest and solidarity groups – democratisation, humanisation and solidarity – could be implemented, Frühauf provided a historical conceptualization of the social movements’ own analyses, rituals and what she labelled “anti-rituals.” She provided a case study: the meeting of European priest groups in Chur, Switzerland from 5-10 July 1969 and in particular, their eucharistic celebrations.

The negotiation of gender concepts in GDR Catholicism from the late 1940s to the early 1970s is a field of research that has not yet been sufficiently explored – according to the thesis of KATHARINA ZIMMERMANN (Tübingen). In her doctoral dissertation, she accordingly investigates how Catholic citizens of the GDR experienced the tension between socialist politics and Catholic teachings on the body, gender, and sexuality in everyday practices and experiences. Zimmermann presented the research design of her work and gave first insights into her research, using examples to analyse the relevance of flight, expulsion, and (sexualised) violence after 1945, with regard to the understanding of gender in GDR Catholicism.

ALEXANDER BUERSTEDDE (Hamburg) presented his historical doctoral project on developments in the image of the priest and in the training of priests in the West German Catholic church between 1965 and 1989/90. These, he argued, could be understood as conflicts over sacrality and sacralisation in the battleground of social upheaval and post-conciliar crisis. When in the diocesan leadership of the middle 1960s the slogan was issued not to train priests for yesterday, but for tomorrow, the initial zeal for reform soon gave way to conservative attempts at containment.  A case in point was the training of pastoral assistants and priests in the archdiocese of München and Freising in the early 1970s. Once trained in the roles together, men and women were separated. Looking ahead, he referred (on the one hand) to the loss of stable practices of self-transcendence (Hans Joas) during the period under study, and (on the other hand) to successful strategies of the clerical preservation of power, despite rapidly declining birthrates. Did the end of the so-called Catholic Milieu go hand-in-hand with a farewell to the priestly ideals long associated with it?

DAVID TEMPLIN (Osnabrück) used Hamburg as an example to shed light on the Catholic Church’s mission to foreigners, which grew in number and importance in the course of labor migration into the Federal Republic from the 1960s onward. He highlighted the importance of the missions for migrants, since they not only worked to provide religious orientation but also functioned as a social “infrastructure of arrival” and as an instance of the community building through their social care. At the same time, Templin described the conflicts and negotiation processes in questions of participation, financial support, and recognition of migrant structures, which flared up in the 1970s in particular, and which made it clear that social debates about migration and integration were also taking place within the Catholic church, though articulated in a particular way.

The documentary film Friedland, about the Lower Saxon border reception camp of the same name, which was watched and discussed under the moderation of Markus Leniger, provided the topic for general debate. It addressed the relationship between Catholic believers and the institution of the Catholic church as a whole and refugees, from contemporary and historical perspectives. In a dialogue between history and social ethics, special attention was paid to the motives and (faith) convictions behind, respectively, Christian and Catholic commitment to refugees, as well as argumentation structures that underlie church attempts at integration and willingness to accept.

In the first presentation of the general debate, MARKUS STADTRECHER (Ulm) used the example of the integration of refugees and expellees after the Second World War in the diocese of Augsburg to confirm the initial thesis that Christian values represented an important motivation for a culture of welcome. In addition, however, there were strategic power interests of church leaders, who tried to use the new believers towards their efforts at re-catholisation. At the same time Stadtrecher made it clear that this migration movement was characterized by a high level of rejection on the part of the local population.

Based on the migration-friendly positions of the Church Magisterium, which ascribes extensive rights to migrants as members of the “human family”, GERHARD KRUIP (Mainz) applied John Rawls’ well-known thought experiment about the human community in its original state to the global level. Under the “veil of ignorance” those involved in the original state would decide to found states, but at the same time would advocate for the greatest possible freedom of movement and open borders. According to Kruip, the application of these “ideal theories” to current problems of migration requires the consideration of reasonableness and possible negative consequences of a brain drain for the countries of origin. In his estimation, making immigration easier is also in the well-understood self-interest of Central European countries, which are heavily influenced by the powerful demographic change.

In the subsequent discussion of both presentations, the Augsburg example could be contextualised within the framework of postwar Catholicism and society and compared with other case studies (e.g. from the diocese of Limburg). On the other hand, there was a lively exchange on Kruip’s thesis, with the focus in particular on the opportunities and limits of a policy open to immigration.

Conference Overview:

Dominik Heringer (Mainz): Hotspot Aachen – Neue Erkenntnisse zum Rheinischen Reformkreis

Lea Torwesten (Bochum): Ankerpunkte des (Glaubens-)Gedächtnisses – Christlich-religiöse Erinnerungsorte des Ruhrgebiets am Beispiel der BVB-„Gründungskirche“ (1898) und des Essener Katholikentages 1968

Maximilian Künster (Mainz): Die Feldpostbriefe der Alumnen des Mainzer Priesterseminars (1939–1945)

Sandra Frühauf (Hamburg): Abschied von „Hochwürden“. Priester- und Solidaritätsgruppen als Foren kirchlicher Selbstreflektion und klerikaler Kritik

Katharina Zimmermann (Tübingen): Gender-Konzepte zwischen Katholizismus und Sozialismus. Körper, Geschlecht und Sexualität im DDR-Katholizismus 1945–1973

Alexander Buerstedde (Hamburg): Katholisches Priesterbild und katholische Priesterausbildung in der Bundesrepublik von 1965 bis 1989/90. Ein Werkstattbericht

David Templin (Osnabrück): „Ausländermissionen“: Migration, institutionelle Einbindung und Konflikte in der Katholischen Kirche am Beispiel Hamburgs, 1960–1990

„Friedland – Der Dokumentarfilm“: Film und Diskussion, Moderation: Markus Leniger

Sarah Thieme (Münster) / Martin Belz (Mainz): Einführung in das Thema der Generaldebatte: „Ich bin ein Fremder gewesen und ihr habt mich aufgenommen“ (Mt 25,35) – Katholizismus und Geflüchtete in historischer wie gegenwärtiger Perspektive

Markus Stadtrecher (Ulm): „Brüder nehmt die Brüder mit“ – Christliche Willkommenskultur und ihre Grenzen am Beispiel der Flüchtlinge und Vertriebenen im Bistum Augsburg nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Gerhard Kruip (Mainz): Gibt es ein Recht auf Einwanderung – wo doch alle Menschen Glieder der einen Menschheitsfamilie sind?