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German dioceses sell publishing business

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WURZBURG, Germany – Germany’s Catholic dioceses have ordered the immediate sale of a church-owned publishing house after reports that it made millions of euros selling erotic and pornographic titles.

“The board of management knows our mandatory requirements as shareholders regarding this company’s value orientation, and that these are written into its statutes,” the Association of German Dioceses said in a Nov. 22 statement.

“After monitoring the board, we have seen it is impossible to restrict adequately the Internet-fueled dissemination and production of media which contradict the ideals of the shareholders.”

The association announced its decision at a Nov. 21-22 meeting in Wurzburg amid controversy over the output of Weltbild, Germany’s largest publisher, which includes church documents and devotional works, but also steamy titles such as “Tempted by Sin” and “The New Kama Sutra.”

It said it had received a report from a board member, Jesuit Father Hans Langendorfer, on his efforts to persuade the company to comply with “church values,” but had now instructed its Catholic co-owners to sell their shares “without delay.”

“The credibility of the publishing group and its shareholders has suffered,” the association added.

“We also regret the distorted and inappropriate way a journalistic confrontation with these issues has been conducted, especially in media close to the church,” it said.

Based in Augsburg, Weltbild employs 6,400 people and has annual book sales of 1.6 billion euros ($2.1 billion). It also owns book clubs and several nationwide bookstore chains, including Hugendubel and Jokers.

The Association of German Dioceses has owned 24 percent shares in the company for the past three decades, with a further 13 percent owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich-Freising and 11 percent by the Augsburg Diocese.

Approximately a dozen more of Germany’s 27 dioceses also co-own the firm, along with the church’s Berlin-based military diocese.

In an Oct. 27 statement, Weltbild insisted erotic material amounted to just a small fraction of its list and said media claims that “the Catholic Church profits from pornography” were “untruthful and defamatory.”

“Pornography is a clearly defined term in law — by this definition, neither Weltbild nor its associates earn millions from pornography,” said the company, which added that it would take legal action “against its slanderers.”

In a Nov. 20 interview with Germany’s Welt am Sonntag weekly, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne said his archdiocese had sold its shares in Weltbild in 2008.

“I’ve been telling the bishops’ conference for years we must break with this company,” Cardinal Meisner said. “We cannot earn money during the week from what we preach against from our pulpits on Sundays. This is simply a scandal.”

Germany’s Deutsche Welle news agency reported Nov. 22 that, in 2008, lay Catholics had sent share-owning dioceses a 70-page dossier on Weltbild, pointing out that the firm was “selling pornographic titles.”

The agency said an October survey by a publishers’ trade magazine had turned up 2,500 titles under the keyword “erotic” on Weltbild’s website.