By Our Special Correspondent ISd. LTHOUGH the German electorate appears to
have little policy choice between the two contending parties when they go to the polls on September 19, the religious factor could well be decisive.
The German government at the moment consists of a coalition of the Christian Democrats, who draw two-thirds of their support from the Catholic electorate, and the Bavarian party of the C.S.U., whose adherents are almost exclusively Catholic.
The election itself is certainly not being fought on religious grounds and there is very little, beyond fresh faces, to distinguish between the relative appeals of both parties.
Nevertheless, many German Catholics, rightly or wrongly, are disturbed at the possibility of the Social Democrats, under the leadership of the popular Mayor of Berlin, Herr Willi Brandt, achieving power.
The traditional cleavage between Catholic and Protestant was reduced chiefly due to Hitler's persecution of the Christian religion generally, but there still remains the psychological legacy of close on 400 years of mutual antipathy.
Both the main parties appeal to Protestant and Ca tholic voters, hut the Social Democrat opposition and the anti-clerical Liberals draw the bulk of their support from the Protestants. The fear of the Catholic community is for their Catholic schools.
The present position of denominational schools derives from the Concordat concluded by Hitler with Pope Pius XI. Broadly speaking, there are two classes of schools. These are the State schools, whereby both Protestant and Catholic pupils have their own separate religious instruction, although the general atmosphere of the school, plus such controversial topics as history and the general approach to moral problems, is dominated by a nonCatholic atmosphere.
The second class of school, a confessional one, is open to any religious group who can prove there is sufficient demand for such a school where denominational religion is taught. The State reimburses 90 per cent of the total cost. For the same reasons as in Britain the Catholic body much prefers to maintain its own schools.
There is uncertainty on two counts. First, the Socialists. except on a regional level in Lower Saxony. have never held power; therefore nobody is certain what they will do. Secondly. there is a strong tradition, particularly in the influential middle echelons of the Social Democrats drawn from the older men, of a consistent
Admittedly. things in Lower Saxony for Catholic schools have been allowed to remain as they are in the rest of Germany. But German Catholic observers tend to take the attitude that one swallow does not make a summer.
They can point to the recent instance of backwoodsmen of the Socialist and Liberal brand attempting to imperil the position of Catholic schools by petitioning For the annulment of Hitler's Concordat on account of his patent insincerity in his dealings with the Holy See.
The Supreme Court of Germany, preferring to rely on the terms of the treaty rather than the supposed state of mind of the Fuehrer. upheld the Concordat.
It is quite feasible that the old anti-cler:calism. beloved by the neo-Marxists in the Social Democrats, has really died. Butt there still remains the hitter memory of more than a century's domination by aggressive Prussian Protestantism which by some Catholics is still felt to be latent in the party of the moderate Left.
Their rights ...
Whereas priests will not he positively urging their flocks to vote along obvious cultural lines, that is for the Christian Democrats, they will certainly remind them they should vote for the party "which will ensure their rights".
The popularity of the parties at the 1961 election was as follows: C.D.U.-C.S.U. (Christian Democrat Coalition) 14.298.372 votes, Social Democrats, 11,427.355.