“If you think of me, don’t be sad,” Father Vincens called out to his friends, “rather talk about me and laugh.” That’s what his obituary on Sunday said. And please: Let’s tell about someone who Berlin used to know very well, even if his life wasn’t just for laughs.
Until 2002 – at that time already 72 years old – the Catholic Salvatorian priest was prison chaplain in Tegel, for 30 years. And this work had shaped him, just as he had shaped this work.
When it came to the living conditions in prison, when it came to emergency pastoral care per se, he sat at the table in Berlin and spoke plainly.
“Father Vincens likes to bluster,” said one of the numerous texts on his farewell. He was not a sensitive theologian with a diplomatic flair, but rather one who emulated the ideal of the worker priest, who not only lamented grievances, but tackled them, and for it also received criticism; He was sometimes called a “pastoral blacksmith”.
The death notice contained, still unusual in Berlin, a photo of the deceased, not a sad one, no, a cheerful Epicurean portrait with a big cigar in his right hand.
On August 31, 2002, the 30 years of service were completed, the priest, who was nicknamed “Pastor Kugelblitz” because of his round belly, held his last mass in the Tegel prison. Even ex-prisoners came to see him say goodbye, and his prison director called after him that he had taken care of “social security” in prison and that he had given many inmates stability and culture with his “unbent axis of soul”.
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Some criminals, it is reported, shed a tear when they said goodbye when the priest handed his “bandit”, as he always called it, a bag with tobacco, coffee, chocolate and a candle. His authority was undisputed, for even in that last Mass he snapped at a disruptive inmate as only he dared: “One more time and you’re out of here!”
There was a black side to this cheerful rudeness, however. The priest remained silent throughout his life about his early days as a teacher in Westphalia; Research by the journalist Peter Wensierski (first in “Spiegel”, then in “Zeit”) showed a while after the last fair that he was probably guilty of all kinds of guilt in the ruthless system of “home education” in the young Federal Republic. He only evaded these allegations, if at all.
The Berlin public took little notice of this, the Catholic Church was silent; His case was only dealt with in more detail in the abuse report for the archdiocese from 2021 (here as a PDF, from page 208). Internally, Vincens had always rejected the allegations.
Even at the age of 72, he did not retire, worked as a hospital chaplain in Lankwitz and was committed to emergency chaplaincy, which he invented in the first place together with the heads of the police and fire brigade in Berlin.
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He got involved where he wanted to see God’s hand at work, blessing the 1,065 wooden crosses on the wall memorial at Checkpoint Charlie in protest against the imminent eviction in 2005.
And at the request of the tabloid press, he liked to get outraged on technical issues, for example when the beating TV series priest “Lasko, the fist of God” wore a deceptively real monk’s habit and was thus guilty of abusing monastic official clothing. Then he slowly disappeared from public view. Father Vincens, 92 years old, died on June 15th in Berlin.