The apostolic nuncio to Austria has strongly criticized German bishops and priests for their opposition to a regional politician’s mandate to display Christian crosses in the entrances of all government institutions, saying such an objection is a “disgrace.” 

Speaking to an audience at Hochschule Heiligenkreuz, a pontifical university near Vienna (see video below), Archbishop Peter Stefan Zurbriggen said that speaking as a representative of the Holy Father, he was “really sad and ashamed that in a neighboring country, bishops and priests, of all people, have to criticise it when they want to erect crosses. 

“That is a disgrace which mustn’t be accepted!,” he said in a loud voice and to a round of applause. 

The nuncio’s reproach comes after Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, criticized a mandate from Markus Söder, Bavaria’s Prime Minister, that all state buildings should display crosses, though not necessarily in the form of a crucifix, by June 1. 

Söder, a Lutheran, announced the decision on April 24. His office said it is intended to “express the historical and cultural character” of Bavaria and to be “a visible commitment to the core values of the legal and social order in Bavaria and Germany.”

But Cardinal Marx told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the cross is not just a “cultural symbol” but rather “a sign of opposition to violence, injustice, sin and death.” It is not a “sign [of exclusion] against other people,” he added.  

The cardinal, who heads the German bishops’ conference, stressed it is not up to the state to explain what a cross means, and that Bavaria's government has triggered “division, unrest and adversity" with the move.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of the Bavarian diocese of Regensburg has taken an opposing view to Cardinal Marx, asserting that: “the cross is the epitome of Western culture.”

“It is the expression of a culture of love, compassion and affirmation of life. It belongs to the foundations of Europe,” he said, adding that its public presence — which in traditionally Catholic Bavaria is near ubiquitous — should be seen as such, welcomed and appreciated.

This is the reason, Voderholzer said, Christians have placed crosses atop the peaks of Bavarian mountains: “Not the national flag or other symbols of human rule, as others might have liked to see at other times, but the cross. It should be widely visible, the cross, the sign of salvation and life in which Christ is heaven and earth, God and reconciled people, victims and perpetrators.”

Archbishop Zurbriggen from Brig, Switzerland, prefaced his remarks by noting that he was speaking in the town of Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross), and that his episcopal motto is Crux sancta lux mihi lux — may the holy cross be my light. 

“Dear brothers and sisters, this religious, political correctness is slowly getting on my nerves,” he continued. “These bishops make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and are ashamed of wearing the cross for whatever reason, and that shames me, too.”

The nuncio was making an oblique reference to Cardinal Marx’s visit to the Holy Land in 2016, when the cardinal was strongly criticized for removing his pectoral cross when visiting the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. 

The nuncio recalled his “dear friend whom I studied with, [Cardinal] Jean Louis Tauran, [currently president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue], who has now made a visit to Saudi Arabia.” 

Archbishop Zurbriggen noted that when meeting the Saudi king earlier this month, Cardinal Tauran wore a cross “twice as large as the one we're wearing here. That is courage!”