It has been more than four centuries since the last time that a German was elevated to the chair of Saint Peter. Pope Hadrian VI (1522-1523) was from Utrecht, a city within the Holy Roman Empire. Before his election as pope, he had been the teacher of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the principal representative of German Humanismus, the intellectual movement of that time, when Germany was the academic center of the Western world. Hadrian VI was a pious intellectual who was heavily resented by the political class of the time because of his insistence on the morality of everyday life. His similarity to Benedict XVT is striking. In his short tenure, Hadrian VI did not succeed in preventing the spread of Protestantism, which he did not want to oppose by political means but by persuasive theological arguments and reforming the Church from within.

Today, the Catholic Church in Germany is not threatened by a new branch of Christianity but by a sort of liberation theology that is much more insidious than the Latin American version that Cardinal Ratzinger successfully opposed as chief of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Liberation theology in Germany is the civic religion of Rousseau, who deemed such an official belief system necessary for a democratic regime. The major tenet of the German version of civil religion was recently expressed by the leader of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) (and chancellor-in-waiting of Germany), Angela Merkel. Recognizing the singularity of the holocaust, she argued, has liberated the Germans and made them democratic. Consequently, those who do not agree with this assessment (but think, for instance, that other socialists such as the Soviets, the Maoists, and Pol Pot were worse than the Nazis) are “extremists” and, therefore, undemocratic—and should be sentenced to jail for something Americans call hate speech (thoughtcrimes). These “Christian” democrats do not hold that it is repentance for having fallen away from the Christian Faith (and opening the door to Nazi rule) that engenders liberation. Instead, a state-imposed belief in certain “historical truths” reinforces the people’s apostasy and concomitant relativism in moral matters. If God existed, Auschwitz would not have happened; since Auschwitz is an irrefutable truth, protected by democratic criminal law, God cannot exist: This reasoning forms the basis for the new German liberation theology.

This political theology puts Christianity in a defensive posture that is, at least with respect to Catholicism, entirely absurd, since it was in the Catholic areas of Germany where Hitler had the biggest difficulties gaining voters and adherents. (It was comparatively easy for him in former liberal areas.) The essential breakthrough came when, in 1932, Hitler finally succeeded in convincing former Socialist voters that nationalism was better suited to socialism than internationalism was, an idea even Stalin could embrace, which explains, to a certain extent, the possibility of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, an essential precondition of World War II. The CDU is obviously too stupid—or, rather, too indulgent toward the superficial pleasures of moral relativism—to understand that the federal German version of liberation theology gives a heavy and entirely undeserved political premium to the socialist left, reborn as internationalists. It was a CDU member who, as federal interior minister, proclaimed January 27 (the day of the communist army’s conquest of Auschwitz) a public holiday, which implies that the totalitarian Soviet Red Army, led by mass murderer Josef Stalin, was a sort of sacramental instrument.

That the new German liberation theology is now the state religion was recently revealed by the plan of the postcommunist/social-democratic government of the city of Berlin to offer “values education” in the schools—an alterative to the religious teaching of the churches—designed to catechize the children with the dogmas of the liberation theology. At least in this instance, both Catholics and Protestants recognized that this presented a danger to their Faith.

In many other instances. Church leaders who lack the intellectual capacity of Cardinal Ratzinger are apparently unable to grasp these dangers: When Cardinal Meisner of Cologne preached on the sanctity of life, drawing a line from Herod to Stalin and Hitler to abortions, the leader of a competing religious minority claimed that he had devalued the holocaust by daring to compare it to abortion. And, instead of challenging this strange judgment, Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz received this minority leader cordially, and the two agreed to enhance mutual tolerance by increasing their fight against the political right. Cardinal Lehmann also failed to protect one of the last traditional Catholics remaining in the CDU, member of parliament Martin Hohmann, when he was attacked for his defense of Germans against the dogmas of liberation theology.

Proponents of Germany’s liberation theology do not hesitate to send “nonbelievers” (violators of “democratic” criminal law) to jail. Thus, Catholics are not permitted to consider their religion to be the one true Faith, superior to other religious denominations. And the Protestant churches have virtually abandoned missionary activities among Jews, since it is undemocratic to consider the Protestant Faith to be true and Judaism false. Once all of the Church leaders accept all other religions as equally true—as required by “democratic tolerance”—liberation theology will demand that Judaism and commemorations of the holocaust be considered superior to Christianity. As a compromise, conversion to Islam may be the solution—which has a certain logic to it, since Islam may be thought of as the revenge of Judeo-Christianity against the Christianity of the Gentiles, which found its expression in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Germany is no longer the intellectual center of the Western world, as she was during the pontificate of Hadrian VI, and the fatherland of Pope Benedict XVI may not be of major importance for the survival of Christianity, which has stronger roots in the Americas. On the other hand, setting aside the hand of Providence, the Catholic Church has been the most successful and longest-lasting multinational organization in history because Her constitutional structure is modeled on that of the Holy Roman Empire, which is Germany, the Roman Empire continued in a Christian fashion. What would it mean for the rest of the world if there was no longer a Catholic Germany?

Unfortunately, since Pope Benedict’s pontificate is expected to be short, like that of the last German pope, he may not have time to compel his compatriots to find answers to these difficult questions.