Fragmentation of europe is the jesuit's preoccupation

Fragmentation of europe is the jesuit's preoccupation

Friedhelm Hengsbach © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

For decades, economist Friedhelm Hengsbach has advocated for social justice. He used to be an outsider – today the Jesuit's thinking is mainstream on many ies.

When social ethicist Friedhelm Hengsbach talks about the future of Europe, he speaks of genuine concern. It demands to end "the mess of the institutions" and to draft a catch-all for the European Union. And he wants a weightier European Parliament. This Saturday, the former longtime head of Frankfurt's Oswald von Nell Breuning Institute for Economic and Social Ethics turns 80.

"Oldie" in men's shared apartment

The scientist has been living in Ludwigshafen for just under a decade – "in a kind of men's flat-sharing community" with five other Jesuits, he is, by his own admission, "the absolute oldie.". "I've never lived as comfortably as I do here," he says. Even the view from the top floor of the Heinrich Pesch House, an educational center in the diocese of Speyer, offers a lot: to the east Ludwigshafen with the Rhine bridges to Mannheim, to the north the industrial plants of BASF, to the south and west the foothills of the Palatinate Forest.

Hengsbach's thinking about and commitment to social justice has not changed for decades. The longtime member of Attac's scientific advisory board deals with ies such as the financial markets and their "speculative attacks" on foreign currencies and food, he analyzes German and European social policy, and he addresses the situation of workers.

The Dortmund native, whose heart beats rather for Schalke 04, presents his positions eloquently but scientifically soberly.

Criticism of the Union's social policy

Again and again, he voiced massive criticism of the social policies of the CDU/CSU, FDP, SPD and Greens. He is a little more gentle with the leftists. In his commitment, the Jesuit, who has received many awards, sees himself "in the succession of Nell-Breuning, according to whom commitment in faith goes hand in hand with social commitment. One is an expression of the other."

Concern about Europe

At present, he is concerned about the EU. One starting point was that he was annoyed by "Angela Merkel's mantra" that Europe was not a social union. He recalls the EU treaties, in which solidarity and equalization of living conditions of disadvantaged regions are enshrined, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and guidelines for working hours and equal rights for women. His conclusion: "No one can say that the EU has no social mandate. Unless I reduce the EU to a single market and monetary union."

He shows understanding for the fact that it hangs. EU enlargement has been fast-tracked, the balancing of mentalities has not kept pace: "To demand that the South work like the North or the East think like the West is nonsensical." Eastern Europeans would have to "first seek and find their national identity". The Western Europeans would have to learn to respect the Eastern Europeans as equals. He sees an opportunity in Donald Trump's policy: Merkel's formula is convincing, the EU must take its fate into its own hands.

Church positions now mainstream

Hengsbach's role in the Catholic Church has changed in the past four years. In the past, he was often an outsider with his thinking, because he wanted reforms "at the head and limbs": a better position for women, a different sexual morality, the abolition of compulsory celibacy and church tax. He went so far as to attest that the institution is "infested with structures of sin". Such statements do not necessarily make popular.

Meanwhile, after four years of Francis, many of Hengsbach's positions are mainstream. "This economy kills," said the Jesuit from Buenos Aires, referring to the fact that people are excluded and treated like garbage. The Jesuit from Ludwigshafen, who attests to Francis "a rebellion from above", did not say it much differently. The analysis: "Francis looks skeptically at purely structural changes, processes are more decisive for him, even if their end is not foreseeable." And Hengsbach is optimistic that "the local communities have woken up". They "are not waiting for the priest who stays away or the bishop who doesn't dare". They would take what moves them into their own hands. A model for Europe.

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Christina Cherry
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