Page last updated at 18:08 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

German drink-driving bishop quits

File photo of Bishop Margot Kaessmann in Hanover
Bishop Margot Kaessmann is a divorced mother of four

The head of Germany's Protestant Church has resigned, four days after being caught drink-driving.

"My heart tells me quite clearly that I cannot stay," Bishop Margot Kaessmann was quoted as saying.

Arrested in Hanover at the weekend, she was charged with passing a red light while three times over the legal limit.

The 51-year-old became Germany's youngest bishop in 1999. She was appointed last year to lead the 25 million-strong Lutheran Church.

"Last Saturday, I made a big mistake," Bishop Kaessmann was quoted as telling reporters on Wednesday.

'Popstar of Protestantism'

"I hereby resign from all my Church responsibilities."

According to prosecutors, Bishop Kaessmann had been "completely unfit to drive" when she was stopped in her Volkswagen Phaeton in Hanover on Saturday.

She faces a fine of a month's salary and a one-year driving ban for the offence.

Bishop Kaessmann, who Spiegel magazine dubbed the "popstar of Protestantism", has a high profile in the Germany.

A divorced mother of four and breast cancer survivor, she made the news recently by calling for the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan in a sermon on New Year's Day.

"I am very sorry to have disappointed many people who asked me to remain in office, and those who trustingly voted for me," she said after resigning.

Lenten period

BBC religious affairs correspondent Christopher Landau says Bishop Kaessmann's appointment as head of the Lutheran Church's ruling council last October received warm support.

All 14 members of that body had held an emergency telephone conference to discuss her leadership and gave her their backing, he says.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she accepted Bishop Kaesmann's decision to resign "with respect and regret".

The resignation comes during the penitential season of Lent, when Christians traditionally engage in fasting and abstinence.

Last year Bishop Kaessmann announced she would mark the 40-day period by giving up alcohol, and media reports cited her as having condemned drink-driving and alcohol abuse in past interviews.

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