The Holy Illusion
Der heilige Schein

david berger der heilige schein
Ullstein Buchverlage
November 2010 / 304pp

This book is outside of the five-year window for guaranteed assistance with English language translation. We suggest getting in touch with the relevant funding body for an informal conversation about the possibility of support. Please refer to to our  recommendations page for books that are currently covered by our funding guarantee.


Part memoir, part exposé, this book offers a full and frank assessment of the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. First and foremost, Berger is an academic theologian, and because of the privileged position that he once occupied within the Church, he is able to offer a highly topical firsthand testimony. Berger speaks with urgency about the conservative turn the Church has recently taken, having frequented the influential academic circles in Germany and Austria, Poland and Rome. And Berger’s perspective is all the more pertinent because he is openly gay.

Berger decided very early not to become a priest. However, both he and his partner quickly gravitated towards the conservative end of the Catholic Church for a combination of academic, personal, and aesthetic reasons. They were not alone, as Berger identifies a number of elements within this kind of religion that appeal to gay men. He also cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that gay people are to be treated with respect and sensitivity, and that they should be protected from discrimination. By Berger’s estimation, as many as fifty percent of Catholic clergy may be gay. He tries to analyse why they are attracted to the priesthood, and suggests the power of sublimation, denial, and the appeal of celibacy and collegiality. Berger identifies celibacy as a cover for the sexual immaturity of many priests, which in turn is the root cause of paedophilia. He therefore rejects the official Catholic position that would blame homosexual orientation for all acts of paedophilia. Indeed, Berger argues that it is in the interests of the Church hierarchy to keep its priests immature and thus docile and dependent. He describes the repressive and infantilising atmosphere in many Catholic schools and seminaries, which works to keep priests (and some laypeople like himself) under control.

Berger’s revelations of hypocrisy, secrecy and sexuality in the Church make for an intriguing read, while the personal elements of his story enable the reader to sympathise. His own analysis of the systemic problems in the Catholic Church today arises organically from his experiences, yet the wide-ranging conclusions that Berger draws ensure that this work will be read as much more than a personal memoir. The result is an important book that will interest psychologists and social scientists as well as theologians and religious commentators, but even more so deserves to be widely disseminated to a general audience.

press quotes

‘David Berger’s book delivers plenty of explosive material.’– DW-World

‘This book is an attack on the Holy Roman hypocrisy and will raise a fiery debate.’– Stern

about the author

David Berger came out in early 2010 after the Bishop of Essen described homosexuality as perverse and a sin during an appearance on a television chat show. Berger resigned from his position as publisher of the magazine Theological and a few weeks later he lost his professorship at the Vatican. Until 2010, Berger had been part of the influential ultra-conservative circle that defends the church’s claim to be the highest moral authority. Berger now works as a school teacher near Cologne.

rights information

Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH
Friedrichstr. 126
10117 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 30 23456 450
Contact: Pia Götz 

Ullstein was founded in Berlin in 1903 by the famous family-owned Ullstein newspaper publishers. The company quickly rose to become Germany’s leading book publisher. In 1934 Ullstein was expropriated by the Nazis. In 1952 the house reopened in Frankfurt and seven years later it was sold to the publishing group Axel Springer. In 2003 Ullstein’s book division was bought by the Swedish media group Bonnier, who brought Ullstein back to Berlin in 2004. The Ullstein publishing group includes the imprints Ullstein, List, Claassen, Marion von Schröder, Tanja Graf Verlag, Econ, Propyläen and Allegria. The broad spectrum of titles includes bestselling authors such as Jo Nesbo, John le Carré, James Ellroy and Helene Hegemann in fiction; Shlomo Sand, Richard Dawkins, Natascha Kampusch and Timothy Ferris in non-fiction.

translation assistance

Applications should be made to the Goethe-Institut.

share this recommendation

Share this on twitter, facebook or via mail.

All recommendations from Spring 2011