“Where church is written on it, there must also be church in it”

Ecclesiastical labor law © Elisabeth Schomaker (KNA)

Church labor laws have come under legal scrutiny several times recently. Representatives from theory and practice dealt with the consequences of the relevant judgments at a conference in Bochum, Germany.

Self-confession: this word comes up again and again at the Ruhr University in Bochum on Wednesday. More than 200 representatives of universities and academies, social welfare associations, vicariates general, parishes and other church institutions met there to discuss the "identity and profile of church institutions in the light of European jurisprudence". But there is little sign of certainty. Instead of answers, mainly questions are formulated.

Do not attach loyalty to sexual life

It's all about church labor law. Two rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have recently put it under prere because the judges saw loyalty obligations for church employees as violations of European anti-discrimination law. Accordingly, these obligations are often addressed at the meeting. All participants in the discussion seem to agree that loyalty cannot be based solely on an employee's sex life. However, opinions differ as to how loyalty should ultimately be defined.

Detlev Fey, for example, labor law officer at the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), would like to retain mandatory church membership for employees, at least for key positions. Professor Isolde Karle disagrees. "Does the spirit of Christianity really hang on denominational affiliation?", asks the Protestant theologian from Bochum.

Munich's Vicar General Peter Beer also advocates a reassessment of the concept of loyalty. "It must not only be about the loyalty of the employee to the employer, but about the common loyalty of the service community to the mission of the church."Apart from church lawyers also theologians are in this question in the obligation. "We must not leave the ie to the courts," Beer said.

What makes the profile of an ecclesiastical institution??

Two lawyers echo the same sentiment. "It cannot be that state courts determine what religious conviction is," emphasizes Christian Walter, chair at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University. Jacob Joussen, professor of church labor law at the University of Bochum, also sees the ball in the churches' court at the moment. "Europe is doing homework," he says, referring to recent ECJ rulings. In the process, however, the discussion must "free itself from its legal grip," the Protestant. Those concerned must think about what constitutes the profile of an ecclesiastical institution. Sustainability or religious offers for employees are possible starting points here.

Norbert Beyer, representative of the German Caritas Association, advocated broadening the perspective even more during the concluding discussion. The impression often arises that the church is driven by the courts in this question, he says. But that is ultimately not the case. "It's about us redefining our identity in a secular world," says Beyer. In this context, he speaks of an "inner identity" that will replace the "formal identity," i.e. church affiliation, for many employees.

Theologian Judith Hahn also calls for a profile to be created and an identity to be found. "Where it says church on it, there must also be church in it. That's what the courts want to see, but it's also what the people we work for want," emphasizes the Bochum church law expert. Thus, a church hospital would have to clearly distinguish itself from a secularly supported hospital. "We need to work out more clearly in the future what this difference is."

By Andreas Laska

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