Founder of the "German Catholics" sect; b. Bischofswalde (Silesia), Oct. 16, 1813; d. Vienna, Oct. 26, 1887. Ronge, a man inclined to religious scrupulosity, studied theology at Breslau, was ordained (1840), and acted as curate in Grottkau. His bishop rebuked him privately for unpriestly behavior (Oct. 29, 1841) and suspended
him (Jan. 30, 1843) after he wrote an article in 1842 condemnatory of Rome. Ronge then became headmaster of a private school at Laurahütte. On Oct. 13, 1844, he issued a public letter vigorously attacking Bp. Wilhelm Arnoldi of trier for exhibiting (for the first time since 1810) the relic of the Holy Coat. The letter created a sensation, and Ronge was excommunicated and degraded from the priesthood. Protestants sympathized with Ronge and encouraged him to start a German Catholic movement that would draw together nationalistically inclined persons who were dissatisfied with the Church's position on dogmatic questions and on disciplinary matters, such as mixed marriages and celibacy. Ronge founded in Breslau a dissenting congregation that rejected most of the doctrines previously denounced by another ex-priest, Johann czerski; however, Ronge's group was more rationalistic and nationalistic. To a council in Leipzig (1845) 15 autonomous congregations sent delegates. By 1847 the movement of Deutschkatholizismus reached its high point of 80,000 members. At a second council, held in Berlin (1847), 259 communities sent representatives, 88 of whom had formerly been priests. Despite intensive propaganda, directed to German Catholics even in the U.S., the movement declined after 1848. In 1850 the "German Catholics" joined the Protestant Free Congregations, and in 1859 they united with the Friends of Light to form an anti-Christian sect. By 1900 there were scarcely 2,000 "German Catholics." In 1921 the remnant joined the antireligious Volksbund für Geistesfreiheit. Because of his active part in the revolution of 1848, Ronge had to seek asylum in London until 1861. Upon his return to Germany he dwelt in Breslau, Frankfurt am Main, and Darmstadt. He died a freethinker.
Bibliography: h. j. christiani, Johannes Ronges Werdegang bis zu seiner Exkommunikation (Berlin 1924). w. leesch, Die Geschichte des Deutschkatholizismus in Schlesien (Breslau 1938). l. w. silberhorn, "Der Epilog eines religiösen Reformers," Zeitschrift für Religionsund Geistes-geschichte 6 (1954) 114–138. k. algermissen, Konfessionskunde (4th ed. Hanover 1930) 181–221. k. algermissen, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2 3:279; 9:38. g. maron, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3 2:112–113; 5:1181.