German Protestant head quits after drunk driving

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of Germany’s 25 million Protestants resigned on Wednesday after police stopped her for driving while under the influence of alcohol just four months after becoming the third woman to head a major Christian Church.

Bishop Margot Kaessmann addresses a news conference in Hanover February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

Known as the “pop bishop,” 51-year-old Margot Kaessmann is a regular on television talk shows and had been a controversial choice as head of Germany’s EKD, the main association of Protestant churches, because she is a divorced mother of four.

Betraying no emotion, Kaessmann told reporters she had made a grave mistake which she deeply regretted.

“But I cannot ignore the fact that my office and my authority ... have been damaged,” she said.

“My heart says quite clearly that I cannot remain in office with the authority that is required,” Kaessmann said.

With immediate effect, she would give up her role as leader of the EKD, an umbrella group of 22 Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches, and as Lutheran bishop of Hanover, she said.

State prosecutors in the northern city of Hanover had said on Monday Kaessmann was under investigation and could lose her driver’s license for a year after police stopped her for shooting a red light on Saturday night.

She was found to have a blood-alcohol level that was more than three times the legal limit, the prosecutors said.

Widely seen as someone whom ordinary people can relate to, Kaessmann has worked to revive the church in Germany which has been losing members.

But she drew criticism from many politicians last month for denouncing Germany’s military mission in Afghanistan in a new Year’s sermon in Berlin.

As one of the few religious leaders in a NATO country to raise the issue, she said she could not justify the German mission in Afghanistan from a Christian point of view.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor, said she acknowledged Kaessmann’s resignation with respect and regret.

“I have very much valued the cooperation with Bishop Kaessmann,” said Merkel in a statement.

Germany has roughly equal numbers of Protestants and Roman Catholics. It was not immediately clear who would replace Kaessmann.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Charles Dick