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German women should be encouraged to “stay at home and bring three or four children into the world”, the archbishop of Cologne has declared, rather than relying on immigration to solve the country’s demographic crisis.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner compared Angela Merkel’s government’s family policies to Communist East Germany, when he said women who stayed at home were considered “demented”.
Germany, which has the lowest birth rate in Europe, is seeking more workers from crisis-hit countries including Spain to solve its shortage of skilled labour.
In unusually direct criticism of the German chancellor, Cardinal Meisner said: “Where are women really publicly encouraged to stay at home and bring three or four children into the world? This is what we should do, and not – as Mrs Merkel does now – simply present immigration as the solution to our demographic problem.”
In an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung the archbishop said Germany should not take away the “youth and future” of Spain and Portugal.
Germany has agreed to provide jobs or apprenticeship places for 5,000 unemployed young people from Spain each year, under a deal signed by the two countries’ labour ministers in Madrid this week, part of joint European efforts to address soaring youth unemployment.
Cardinal Meisner said: “We should train these unemployed people, give them a fresh perspective, but then allow them to go back to their homeland, where they are needed.”
Germany has Europe’s lowest birth rate, at just 1.36 children per woman, according to the federal statistical agency. During her first term in office in 2006, Mrs Merkel introduced generous child benefit payments, worth up to 65% of a new parent’s salary to a maximum of 1800 euros a month. But the policy has had little effect on the country’s birth rate, which continues to dwindle. Most schools in Germany end at lunchtime, making it difficult for parents to work full-time – though an increasing number are beginning to stay open in the afternoon.
Annegret Laakmann, president of the Catholic group Frauenwuerde (“Women’s Dignity”) dismissed the 79-year-old archbishop’s views.
She told the Daily Telegraph: “Age doesn’t always bring wisdom. The church can’t drag women back into the kitchen. We don’t live in the 1940s – women are more educated and have greater opportunity for leadership now. I myself only have one child, and that’s because I’ve always worked. It is difficult to combine children and a career.”
Mrs Laakmann said German firms needed to offer men more part-time work, to allow them to care for their children. “In Holland, many people do part-time work. But in Germany, part-time work for men is inconceivable.”
The Catholic church in Germany was fiercely criticised in January after two Catholic hospitals denied treatment to a rape victim, apparently because they did not want to give advice on dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
In the interview, Cardinal Meisner said he had been “appalled” by the number of Catholics who quit the church over this incident. He said that while rape was a serious crime, the church also had to warn women against birth control methods that were not compatible with Catholic beliefs.
Germany’s Catholic leadership, the German Bishops’ Conference, ruled in February that it was acceptable to prescribe the morning-after pill to prevent a pregnancy.
The archbishop said that, after discussions with the Vatican, he had concluded that the morning-after pill was acceptable because it did not cause abortions. He added: “Before January, not all the bishops knew that such a pill existed.”