Entering a growing controversy about the building of a mosque in Cologne, Germany's Catholic bishops affirmed Friday the right of Muslims to build "dignified" houses of worship in German cities.
German bishops have condemned anti-Islamic sentiment
But in compromise wording that reflected differences among the bishops, they added that they disapproved of mosques "being abused as expressions of power hunger, rivalry or aggressive interaction."
Despite supporting the building of mosques, the bishops said Muslim communities should try to consider local residents when seeking to establish places of worship.
The bishops were meeting as part of their annual autumn plenary assembly in the city of Fulda, Hesse.
The assembly went on to condemn any attempts, political or not, to arouse an anti-Islamic sentiment within Germany. "Criticism is permitted, agitation is not," stressed the chairman of the assembly, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.
He said the matter came down to the right to freedom of worship, but added that mosque designs should be adapted to their surroundings and should try to meet the "justifiable concerns" of neighbours.
Far-right seizes on Cologne mosque
In the western German city of Cologne, there has been widespread opposition to a project to build a mosque near a main street with two 55-metre-high minarets.
Thousands of police were called into Cologne to contain protests against the "anti-Islamification conference" in Cologne
A far-right group vainly tried to hold an anti-mosque rally in Cologne on Saturday, Sept. 20, but were blocked by police amid fears of a street battle.
The two-day "anti-Islamification congress" was organized by members of the Pro-Koeln (For Cologne) group, who were met with a chorus of whistles and paint bombs hurled by some 100 leftist activists.
The self-labelled "civil movement" has been represented on the local municipal council for four years.
Mixed political response
The fault line in the debate has, however, crossed the political spectrum.
The center-right Christian Democrats are divided and even some leading liberals have also condemned the project as "too assertive," while Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party have generally backed the Muslim minority.
An estimated 3.3 million people of Muslim background live in Germany, 1.8 million of which are Turks.