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The Chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Fulda, Cardinal Joseph Frings, on the Reorganization of the Marriage and Family Law (January 30, 1953)

The Protestant and Catholic churches were active participants in the West German debate in the early 1950s over reforming the provisions of the Civil Code that pertained to marriage and family law. The Catholic Church maintained that marriage and family were regulated by the natural order and were open to legal intervention by the state only to a limited degree. While Cardinal Joseph Frings, the bishop of Cologne, acknowledged the change in the status of women within society, he vigorously defended the “natural” pre-eminence of the husband and father in decisions regarding marriage and the family. He saw it as the only way to avoid a stalemate or state intervention from the outside.

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[ . . . ]

We gratefully acknowledge that the basic attitude expressed in the ‘Preface’ to the official justification seeks to do justice to the Christian point of view. [ . . . ]

In several places in the government’s draft, the proposed bill has been aligned with the aforementioned ideas in the ‘Preface’ to the official justification, especially when it comes to the provisions on parental authority (Paragraphs 1626ff.), in regard to which the official justification (p. 74) even refers clearly and unambiguously to the “natural and Christian ordering concepts.” We fully appreciate – of course, without being able to speak to all the technical-legal details – the weight of this decision by the federal government and the expressed will to follow Christian principles. A similar position is also revealed – though less clearly – by the proposed version of Paragraphs 1354 and 1360, Section 3, of the draft. Moreover, the effort by the federal government in the area of marital property law to eliminate the previous deficiencies to the benefit of the wife is welcome. We also generally agree with the federal government that wherever sociological changes demand a change in the legal status of women that change should be implemented, provided that it does no harm to marriage and the family as communities of natural law.

However, for all our agreement with some proposals in the draft, we must raise a number of serious objections, since the aforementioned attitude laid down in the ‘Preface’ to the official justification was unfortunately not taken into consideration throughout the entire draft.

In our view, the most far-reaching decision in the government’s draft can be found in the fact that it proposes the incorporation of nearly all the provisions of the current ‘marriage law’ into the Civil Code. We must warn most seriously against such an approval of nuptial and divorce law regulations that were created by the National Socialists in 1938 and confirmed by the Allied Control Council in 1946. In accord with what was repeatedly explained recently, we are also of the opinion that these two sub-areas of marriage law must be subjected to a fundamental reform.

However, once the now valid regulations have been enshrined in the Civil Code, there is very little hope that this fundamental reform will be undertaken any time soon.

Moreover, Christian members of parliament cannot possibly be expected to vote for a regulation – even if it is initially perhaps merely a formally intended regulation – that they reject in their conscience.

We further point out that if all of marriage and divorce law is to be legally regulated, then it is imperative to negotiate with the Holy See, namely on the basis of Article 26 of the Reich Concordat. [ . . . ]

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