BERLIN, Sep 15 (Reuters) A German cardinal has sparked outrage by warning that modern culture is at risk of descending into ''degeneracy'', a term which is taboo due to its close connection to the Nazis.
It is the second time in a week that a prominent figure has drawn fire for alluding to subjects linked to the Nazi era, highlighting how sensitive Germans still are -- more than 60 years after the collapse of Hitler's regime.
Joachim Meisner, archbishop of the western city of Cologne, made a broad attack on modern culture in a speech to inaugurate a local museum yesterday.
''When culture is disconnected from divine reverence, the cult descends into ritualism and culture degenerates. It loses its centre,'' he said.
The term 'degeneracy' is barely uttered these days in Germany.
Hitler's Nazis used the concept to describe art and culture which failed to conform to their tastes.
''I am shocked that the term ''degenerate'' is still used, I thought that was history in Germany,'' said former North Rhine-Westphalia minister Michael Vesper.
''Art is free and should not be pocketed by anyone. Anyone, like Cardinal Meisner, who is prepared to reject art which does not fit into his own pigeonhole of thought ... is stoking a dangerous fire,'' he told Express newspaper.
POLITICAL CONDEMNATION A range of politicians condemned the comments which appeared prominently in German newspapers.
''That Cardinal Meisner got carried away enough to use such a phrase is shocking and shows he has no grasp of art and culture,'' said Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, a Catholic state secretary in North Rhine-Westphalia's culture ministry.
The 63-year-old cardinal initially defended his choice of words, telling German radio he simply meant to say that if art and culture are separated, then both suffer.
But yesterday his office released a statement saying he regretted that some of his words had been taken out of context and was shocked over the public reaction. ''Cardinal Meisner rejects allegations that he was linking himself to a term which was abused by the Nazis,'' said the statement.
Meisner, who was a bishop in communist East Germany, is no stranger to controversy. He was criticised earlier this month for angering some Muslims by attacking an abstract stained glass window designed for Cologne Cathedral, saying ''it belongs to a mosque or another place of prayer but not this one.'' Last Sunday, a public television network sacked popular talk show host Eva Herman for praising the Nazi's family policies.
At a book presentation, Herman had said family values that were nurtured in the Nazi era had been cast away by the turmoil of the late 1960s. She also described the Nazi era as a ''horrible time with a manic leader''.
REUTERS GL PM2020