Bishop who preached about 'excess' caught drink-driving

First woman in Germany to lead Protestants was more than three times over limit
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The Independent Online

At least it wasn't Communion wine. German Protestants take the Holy Sacrament on Sundays and Bishop Margot Kässmann, the controversial head of the country's Lutheran church, was caught driving with over three times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood on a Saturday.

The 51-year-old chief representative of Germany's 25 million Protestants, who is an outspoken moralist and the first woman ever to hold the job, was pulled over by police in downtown Hanover late last Saturday night after she ran a red light.

The incident was particularly embarrassing for the bishop as it happened only four days after the beginning of Lent and after she had previously explained that she usually gave up alcohol during the period. "I have suddenly noticed how easily a glass of wine in the evening can turn into a habit," she said in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in March last year.

The officers breathalysed her after smelling alcohol in the car. A subsequent blood test revealed that the bishop's blood had an alcohol content of 0.154 per cent – more than three times the legal limit. "Everything beyond 0.11 means that the person is completely incapable of driving and that they have committed a crime," the Hanover state prosecutor's office said yesterday.

Police said they had confiscated the bishop's driving licence and begun an official investigation into the incident. According to police, she had consumed well over the equivalent of a bottle of wine or one and a half litres of strong beer before getting in to her car. Under German law, she faces a year's driving ban and a hefty fine if convicted. Germany's Protestant church refused to comment on the incident yesterday.

However, Bishop Kassmann was demonstrably penitent: "I am shocked at myself and by the fact that I was capable of making such a serious mistake," she said in a statement. "I know how dangerous and irresponsible drink-driving is. I will of course take all the legal consequences."

Bishop Kassmann has four daughters and divorced her husband of 26 years in 2007. Her critics absolved her after it emerged that her husband had left her for another woman. She was appointed head of Germany's Protestant Church council last October

Since her appointment, Bishop Kassmann, who is often described as humourless, has played the role of a moral authority. She criticised bankers for their greed during the financial crisis and has condemned all forms of "excess". Her most controversial remarks have been over Afghanistan where Germany deploys some 4,000 troops. Bishop Kassmann infuriated armed forces chiefs by declaring that "Nothing is good in Afghanistan" and urging a speedy withdrawal of troops.

The reaction of leading Protestant Church figures to her drink-driving debacle was mixed. "It is the kind of blackout that unfortunately keeps happening to people in public office who are under constant stress," said Friedrich Schorlemmer, a prominent east German pastor. Others, including the Hamburg pastor Ulrich Rüss, described it as a "worst-case" scenario. "Her critics have now been handed even more ammunition with which to attack the church," he said.

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