Original article in German
Bit by bit, even in those circles closest to the Pope, and within the Secretariat of the Vatican State, thoughts and concerns have begun to run rampant: for some time, it has been common knowledge that the Augusta "Weltbild" company, 100% owned by German bishops, is the leading bookseller in Germany and, in terms of on-line sales, it ranks second on the German market, after Amazon. The turnover of the chain of the German bishops' bookshops is around 1.7 billion Euros. But the Pope's entourage is not rejoicing about this at all. Indeed, it knows full well that "Weltbild" has no Catholic aims or inspirations and that, being a colossus among collossi, it sells all that the big operators in the sector offer on-line, including esoteric material, Buddhist literature, even Satanism and eroticism. One can find more that 2000 literary articles, or in other words books on eroticism, and more than 4000 on esoteric subjects.
The members of the "Weltbild" board include representatives from twelve German Catholic dioceses and the “Verband der Diözesen Deutschlands” (VDD or the Association of German Dioceses). The latter is a consortium of all the German episcopates, established to oversee mutual matters of law and finance. Shareholders of the "Weltbild" company include the Dioceses of Trier, Aachen, Bamburg, Eichstätt, Fulda, Freiburg, Münster, Passau, Regensburg, Trier and Würzburg and the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The largest shareholdings are in the hands of, amongst others, the Association of German Dioceses (24.2%), the Archbishopric of Munich and Freising (13.2%) and the Diocese of Trier (11.7%). However, all German bishops are in fact co-owners of "Weltbild", through their membership in the Association of German Dioceses.
Therefore, all German dioceses have actively been supporting the entrepreneurial model of "Weltbild" for thirty years now: a thirty year marriage between dioceses, money and power. With its "family business" in the mass media sector, the German Catholic Church has become a major player. To arrive at such a level, millions and millions of offerings and money transfers by the church have gone up in smoke. As far as the German bishops are concerned, "Weltbild" represents a kind of bank; over the years, they have invested nearly 182 million Euros in church dues.
"Weltbild", however, does not limit itself to selling erotic books, it also has shareholdings in many publishing houses which produce erotic and pornographic litterature. In 1998 for example, "Weltbild" amalgamated seven of its own publishing houses with five of the "Georg von Holtzbrinck" group into the "Droemer&Knaur" corporation with registered offices in Munich. "Droemer&Knaur" is a publishing house that is in tune with the times. It aims its offer at "mainstream" purchasers, constantly churning out erotic and pornographis books. German bishops currently hold 50% of "Droemer&Knaur", which means that they are no longer just peddlers of erotic and pornographic material (through "Weltbild"), they are now also producers.
But that is not all; other equally questionable shareholdings come into play. "Weltbild" also owns a third of the "Buecher.de" internet portal which publicizes books such as "Graf Porno" (Count Porn) and "Porno für Paare” (Porn for couples). When the German magazine "Buchreport" and the Austrian on-line press service "kath.net" made an observation on these facts at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, German Catholics who contribute to the church were not at all happy to find out how exactly their money was being used.
In the meantime, for the Pope, the issue has become a matter of urgency; a constant flow of publicity on the participation of the church in the sale and production of pornographic and erotic books, yet amongst the bishops, there is a total conspiracy of silence. It was Benedict XVI, who broke the impasse and brought the matter up last Monday when he received the new German Ambassador, Reinhard Schweppe, in the Holy See to present him with his letters of credence. Benedict XVI expressed his pleasure at the relationship between the Vatican and the German Federal Republic - as is nevertheless appropriate on such occasions - only to make a statement which was completely out of context: "The moment has come - the Pope resolutely declared - to make a stand against prostitution, as well as the widespread diffusion of erotic and pornographic material, even on the internet.
The Holy See will ensure that the Catholic Church in Germany takes decisive and committed steps against these evils." A phrase which should ring several alarm bells within the ecclesiatical establishment in Germany. But why did the Pope take advantage of the diplomatic visit from Germany to urge the Catholic Church in his native country to proceed in a precise and decisive manner against the spreading of erotic and pornographic material? Whatever the reasons, when the Pope received the new ambassador, he spoke in German, and the word spread around the relevant establishments.
That Sunday evening, the Archbishop of Cologne released a press statement affirming that he personally, over a number of years, had put pressure on the church to distance itself from "Weltbild". By now the conspiracy of silence amongst the German bishops on the sale of erotic material has been broken. A clean up has begun, but there is a long way to go.