September 15 2007, category: Misc, by: Adam

A German archbishop has sparked controversy by calling some modern art "degenerate" - a term used by the Nazi regime in its persecution of artists.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, was speaking as the Church inaugurated its Kolumba art museum.

Cardinal Meisner warned that when art became estranged from worship, culture became degenerate.

The cardinal had not intended to pay tribute to "old ideologies", a spokesman said.


The BBC's Marianne Landzettel says this was no off-the-cuff remark by the cardinal, delivered in a sermon in Cologne Cathedral, but was precisely scripted.

She says the phrase degenerate art - "entartete Kunst" - in German has only one connotation: that of Nazi Germany and the persecution of artists, the banning of paintings and the burning of books.

"Entartete Kunst" was the name of an exhibition of works organised by the Nazis in 1937 in Munich as a warning to the German people.

In a newspaper interview, the North Rhine-Westphalia culture secretary, Hans-Dietrich Grosse-Brockhoff, said it was appalling that Cardinal Meisner had used such a word.

Former minister Michael Vesper also said he was shocked.

"I thought all this was history, and then it is a high-ranking member of the Catholic clergy who uses it," he said.

After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi government started to bring art under its control.

All modern art, and Expressionism in particular, was labelled degenerate and was not to be shown in public.

More than 15,000 paintings were removed from German museums.

Recently Cardinal Meisner expressed opposition to a new stained-glass window in Cologne Cathedral.

The abstract work by renowned artist Gerhard Richter contains thousands of squares.

The archbishop's supporters say he is not opposed to modern art as such but wanted the window to be a more figurative representation, including of those who suffered under Nazi persecution.

Correspondents say any sign of agreement with the Nazis is taboo in Germany.

Last week, a top TV presenter was sacked for praising the Nazis' respect for families and motherhood.

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