Sunday, January 23, 2011

Say it ain't so: Bishop Mixa is back
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The bishop and the bodyguard:
Getting people excited about Jesus

JUST WHEN GERMAN CATHOLICS thought it was safe to go back to church, ex-Bishop Walter Mixa has announced his gratuitous return to public life. Last year, the feisty Bavarian dominated the headlines for months, both for his heartless and reactionary statements in his dual role of Bishop of Augsburg and Germany’s chief military chaplain and for revelations of egregious child abuse and financial malfeasance at a Catholic children’s home that he had supervised in the 1980s and 1990s. (I have written about him extensively on this blog.)

Everyone hoped the Mixa saga was over last April when he submitted his resignation to the Pope. Benedict approved his request in record time, and also ordered Mixa to embark on “a period of silence and healing” alongside his detox program at a Bavarian alcohol clinic. Mixa subsequently retired to a small house on the grounds of a convent, presumably for good.

But this was not the end of the story. If it’s hard to keep a good man down, it’s even harder to persuade a man of the likes of Mixa to keep his peace, particularly if he only has a handful of aging nuns around to harangue.

This week, Mixa announced that he is poised for a comeback. It seems that the 69-year-old pastor is planning a nationwide lecture tour in the company of an ex-bodyguard called Michael Stahl, who works as a “violence prevention consultant” and operates a self-defense school in the Württemberg town of Bopfingen.

Considering how Mixa has made enemies among Jews, gay people, feminists, atheists and just about everyone else who has wandered into his range of vision over the years, you might think he was taking Stahl along for protection. But you’d be wrong: It turns out that the burly, born-again bodyguard is a motivational speaker in his own right, whose autobiography tells the story of how his discovery of Jesus changed his life for good. In fact, he tells his audiences, “Jesus is my bodyguard, and with him at your side you can experience protection and security.” (You can see a promotional video for his book here.)

There is no word yet on what the good bishop plans to talk about, aside from “getting people excited about Jesus,” but if he’s true to form the two gentlemen might want to supplement Jesus with a couple of good raincoats to ward off the shower of eggs and rotten fruit that is likely to greet them as they take their show on the road. The first round of artillery is coming from an unexpected direction: from the Catholic clergy itself.

Mixa’s successor in the Augsburg Diocese, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa (proving once more that the job description for this position includes a funny-sounding name), is calling Mixa’s plans “a regrettable case” and suggested that “silence would be better.” Zdarsa’s spokesman added that his boss “is amazed and anything but happy. It will be necessary to talk to Bishop Mixa about these lectures.” If their content is found wanting, a ban could be in the works.

The title of the tour is “Never alone: Life has meaning.” Mixa's co-speaker, Stahl, who works directly with an evangelical mission society, will use the events to market his own book Never Alone: And Though We Walked Through the Shadow of Death… Stahl's personal story is indeed inspiring - a childhood of crushing poverty, an abusive alcoholic father, bullying at school, and a slow path upward as a born-again Christian and eventually as Germany's most famous bodyguard. How does his story mesh with that of a disgraced cleric and notorious child-abuser like Mixa?

In fact, Mixa himself has been sounding increasingly born-again (if not downright delusional) himself lately. In an online interview with Stahl, he admitted his sins, saying: “That which I have done wrong I wish to bring to you, the guiltless, the sinless, the crucified one, the Father, for my own salvation and for that of all mankind.” Well, at least he isn't complaining about "blood libels."

The fears among Catholics range from déja vu over Mixa’s previous divisive statements, which unleashed a crisis in the Church matched only by the endless pedophilia scandal, and the concern that he may have sold out to the Evangelical Religious Right for thirty pieces of silver (after long since selling out to the Catholic Religious Right, which is still paying his hefty pension). Only one thing is certain: Walter Mixa will continue to delight newspaper editors (and bloggers) for months to come. I say bring it on!

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