A German-Congolese Catholic priest who has spoken up for refugees is leaving his Bavarian parish after being targeted with racist slurs and death threats, the Munich archdiocese said Monday.
Olivier Ndjimbi-Tshiende, 66, had endured insults such as “negro” from local politicians of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), who also railed against migrant “invaders” over-running Germany.
He will leave the parish of Zorneding by April 1 and take up another post, said the archdiocese, expressing its support for the priest who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has held dual German nationality since 2011.
The priest felt “relieved after he made his decision to leave and told his flock,” said the statement by the archdiocese of Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
“The situation was very burdensome for him, yet he looks back without bitterness at his time in Zorneding,” it added about the priest, who had held the post since 2012.
Local police in the town 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Munich said they had launched an investigation into incitement of racial hatred and other possible charges.
– ‘Go to Auschwitz’ –
Ndjimbi-Tshiende had declared in church on Sunday that he could no longer bear the climate of hatred against him in his parish in Bavaria, the main gateway for migrants flocking to Germany along the Balkans route and Austria.
He said he had received five anonymous death threats and been the subject of racist abuse, often in public.
Bavaria’s CSU has for months vehemently criticised coalition ally Chancellor Angela Merkel for her liberal migrant policy, which brought over one million asylum seekers to the country last year.
The mood darkened significantly last October in Zorneding, a picturesque village of 9,000 people where the Baroque St Martin church stands across from a restaurant with a traditional beer garden.
CSU local chairwoman Sylvia Boher attacked Merkel in the local party newspaper, charging Bavaria was being “overrun” by what she labelled foreign “invaders”.
Ndjimbi-Tshiende in an open letter criticised Boher and the “brown ideology” of the local CSU — a reference to the Nazi party’s brown shirts — urging it to remove an image of the town’s church steeples from the logo of its newspaper.
Boher’s local deputy Johann Haindl then urged “our negro” priest to restrain himself, reported the Muenchner Merkur newspaper.
The racist comments sparked uproar, and both local politicians, Boher and Haindl, had to resign their CSU posts.
But hatred clearly lingered, and the priest in the next few months received five death threats.
One person had yelled that “after the evening mass, you’re done for”, the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.
And an anonymous postcard reportedly read: “Go to Auschwitz”.