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German president calls on pope to restore church credibility

October 25, 2021

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said the Catholic Church needs to be more transparent about abuse scandals. He and the pope also criticized a lack of coherent EU immigration policy with regard to refugees.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) shaking hands with Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican
Steinmeier (right) met with Pope Francis in Rome on MondayImage: VATICAN MEDIA/AFP

Two weeks after outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel made her farewell visit to Vatican City, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has met with Pope Francis in Rome. 

After his 50-minute private audience on Monday, Steinmeier told journalists that he had stressed to the pope the need for the Catholic Church to restore its credibility.

"This includes, of course, how it works through the abuse scandals of the past," Steinmeier said. 

Pope Francis has been accused by his critics of failing to take quick enough action against bishops accused of misconduct or cardinals accused of enabling them.

Steinmeier said it is important that churches own up to their misdeeds and work to prevent them from occurring again, as governments and societies need to be able to rely on religious organizations as trustworthy partners in times of crisis.

What else did Steinmeier discuss with the pope?

The two men also discussed climate change, humanitarian crises such as in Afghanistan and shared their worries about the deteriorating situation for refugees waiting to enter the European Union at the Poland-Belarus border.

Several refugees have died under mysterious circumstances at the border, as the Polish government continues to refuse journalists or international human rights observers access to crossings there.

Recently, Warsaw has increased troop deployments at the border, and says it has prevented tens of thousands of attempts to illegally enter the country. 

Poland has refused offers from the EU and Germany to send troops to assist their border patrol. Germany has seen a spike in arrivals recently of people who had traveled via Belarus.

Steinmeier said he regretted that Europe was, as in 2015, not acting together on immigration.

"We can now see the consequences of uncoordinated actions within the European Union," the president told the press after his meeting with the pope.

He said  the pontiff agreed with him that it was irresponsible of the Belarusian government to simply pick up people fleeing violence in the Middle East and send them to the country's borders.

Migration spike worries German authorities

es/wmr (dpa, KNA)