Uta Ranke-Heinemann © Horst Ossinger
Uta Ranke-Heinemann doubted the Trinity of God and the redemption of Christ on the cross. The theologian sharply criticized the papal ban on pills and condoms. The controversial theologian has now died in Essen.
She was the world's first professor of Catholic theology and soon became a vocal critic of the Roman Catholic Church: Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the eldest daughter of former German President Gustav Heinemann, has died. She died Thursday morning in Essen at the age of 93, her son Andreas Ranke told the German Press Agency. She had fallen asleep peacefully in the presence of family members.
In 1945, she was the only girl to attend the Burggymnasium in Essen, where she achieved a top school-leaving certificate. She studied Protestant theology. In 1953, she converted to Catholicism in search of greater religious tolerance, earned a doctorate and became the first Catholic theology professor. "But with the Catholics, I went from the frying pan into the fire," she later said.
From contraception to the Virgin Mary
The peace activist soon came into conflict with the official church in the dispute over the papal ban on contraception. That African women would be threatened with hell for using a condom during sex with their HIV-infected husband, Ranke-Heinemann called a "deadly misleading of humanity".
In 1999, the pacifist was persuaded by Gregor Gysi in the kitchen of her house to run for president of Germany – a candidacy that was hopeless from the start – on behalf of the Left's predecessor party, the PDS. Johannes Rau (SPD) won the election.
The break with the church came in 1987, after Ranke-Heinemann contradicted the church dogma of the virgin birth. She did not want Mary's virginity to be understood literally, but as "models of imagination at the time". The then Bishop of Essen, Franz Hengsbach, withdrew her teaching license. She lost her chair in Essen, but got a chair for history of religion independent of the church.
Critical of the church to the end
At the same time, Ranke-Heinemann wrote about religion and church. In particular, "Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven," about church sexual morality, topped the bestseller lists in several countries. No and Amen" is considered her main theological work, which she later subtitled "My Farewell to Traditional Christianity". The only positive thing she had left of Christianity was the "hope of a reunion with the beloved dead", she wrote in it.
Ranke-Heinemann did not deviate from her church-critical positions even later on. The election of her former fellow student Joseph Ratzinger as pope did nothing to change this situation. "I am disappointed," she declared just over a year after Benedict XVI took office. "I had hoped he would finally abolish celibacy."