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Catholic Association of Germany

CATHOLIC ASSOCIATION OF GERMANY (KATHOLISCHER VEREIN DEUTSCHLANDS) The 1848 Revolution served as a ca talyst for Catholic organization in Germany. With new freedoms of assembly and speech, German Catholics mobilized on an unprecedented scale, founding more clubs, associations, and journals than any other segment of society. The Catholic response to the revolution was diverse. Some Catholics hoped in 1848 to launch a reform movement in the German church that would liberalize and perhaps even democratize the institution. Others hoped to strengthen centralized authority under the papacy and drive out liberal and progressive elements in German Catholicism. Most agreed that independence of the church from the state was necessary, as was the need to mobilize charitable efforts in response to the social and political upheaval in central Europe.

Primarily conservative and populist elements in German Catholicism came together in October 1848, at a conference calling itself the Catholic Association of Germany. During the spring and summer of 1848, a circle of priests and laymen in Mainz worked through conservative Catholic journals to promote the founding of a new association, an umbrella organization originally named the Pius Association for Religious Freedom. The idea resonated within the more conservative circles and in the church hierarchy. By August, hundreds of cells of this new Pius Association had formed, and Father Adam Franz Lennig issued the call for a general assembly to convene in Mainz.

The Mainz convention hoped to formulate a Catholic response to the revolution. While the political battle for religious freedom hinged primarily on the states, and therefore necessitated regional rather than national action, the convention divorced its political agenda from its social mission. The convention chose to separate from the Pius Association for Religious Freedom, renaming the convention the Catholic Association of Germany (Katholischer Verein Deutschlands, hereafter KVD). The KVD put forth as its tasks "the realization of freedom of the church and all her rights through legal means; freedom of education; the intellectual and moral education of the Volk; and alleviation of the leading social incongruities and evils." The KVD left political agitation for "freedom of the Church" to the Pius Association. The KVD instead dedicated its conference to the "Social Question." Wilhelm Emanuel Ketteler, later Bishop of Mainz and a leader in the German church hierarchy, captivated the delegates with a series of lectures on the present social dangers. Arguing that selfish interest and greed had deepened the chasm between rich and poor, Ketteler argued for a moral regeneration of the German people. His orations helped inspire the movement to create charitable associations throughout Germany under KVD auspices. Those charities and voluntary associations became a cornerstone of the religious revival in Catholic regions of Germany, which consequently benefitted the ultramontane (i.e. Rome-oriented) movement.

The KVD laid the foundation for Catholic charitable and social engagement throughout Central Europe, what German historians call "social Catholicism." Because it had chosen to distance itself from direct political engagement in 1848, the KVD survived the reactionary backlash in 1849-50. The Pius Association did not. To reinforce the apolitical image, the KVD pluralized its name to the Catholic Associations of Germany by 1850, and then later changed to the General Assembly of the Catholics of Germany. Despite these alterations, Prussia remained suspicious of the organization and refused to allow the annual conference to meet on Prussian soil for several years. Conservative in its social and religious outlook, the KVD promoted the ultramontane movement to the detriment of more progressive elements in German Catholicism, and eventually helped influence the social policies put forward by the Catholic Center Party in the German Empire and the Weimar Republic.
Eric Yonke


Ernst Heinen, Katholizismus und Gesellschaft: Das katholische Vereinswesen zwischen Revolution und Reaktion (1848/49-1853/54) (Idstein, 1993).

Johannes B. Kissling, Geschichte der deutschen Katholikentage: Im Auftrage des Zentralkomitees für die Generalversammlungen der Katholiken Deutschlands (Münster, 1920).

Jonathan Sperber, Popular Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Princeton, 1984).

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