Pope Warns of Erosion of Faith in Germany, Worldliness in the Church

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral (photo: Wikimedia commons)

Pope Francis' address today to German bishops on their ad limina visit was not the only message for the country's episcopate. It seems his morning homily was, too.  

In his address at the end of the German bishops' ad limina this week, the Holy Father said “one can truly speak of an erosion of the Catholic faith in Germany”.

“Whereas in the 1960’s the faithful almost everywhere attended Mass every Sunday," he noted, "today it is often less than 10 percent."

He called on the bishops to use the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy to revive the Church through rediscovering “the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist” in the face of a collapse in sacramental participation in the country.

But in his morning homily, too, the Pope appeared to speak to the German hierarchy, warning against the temptation to ecclesiastical “worldliness”, and urging those present not to become "dominated by money and power."

This is an underlying problem frequently attributed to the German church, most notably by Benedict XVI in his “enweltlichung” speech during his visit to Germany in 2011. 

The reasons for its worldliness are complex but are essentially rooted in the nation’s Kirchensteuer (Church tax) that has helped make it one of the wealthiest churches in the world and the nation’s second largest employer. The Church is therefore rich in structures and generous in humanitarian aid, but its dependence on the state has smothered its missionary spirit. Mass attendance has collapsed and the hierarchy has been criticized for compromising on Church teaching in the face of strong secularism.

In his speech to the bishops, Pope Francis therefore directly appealed to them not to “put trust in administrative structures, in perfect organizations”. He called such a tendency “a sort of new Pelagianism” — a term reminiscent of his critique of the Italian church last week. 

Noting the sacraments are approached “less often” (a survey released earlier this year showed 54% of Germany’s priests go to Confession just once a year or less), and that vocations have “significantly diminished”, the Pope said the solution depends upon overcoming “paralyzing resignation”.

It cannot be based upon an attempt to “rebuild from the wrecks of ‘the good old days’ in the past,” he said, but rather inspired by the life of the early Christians.

He told the bishops to highlight the importance of Confession during the Year of Mercy, which can help “reform the Church”, and to stress the “intimate connection” between the Eucharist and the priesthood. The “precious collaboration” of the laity cannot be a “surrogate” for the priesthood. “If there is not priest, there is no Eucharist,” the Pope said.

On the theme of evangelization, he said it is "essential" that the bishop "conscientiously perceives his task as teacher of the faith, of the traditional and lived faith in the living community of the universal Church." The Pope also stressed that "fidelity to the Church and to the Magisterium does not contradict academic freedom, but it requires an attitude of willingness to serve in relation to the gifts of God."

The Pope further reminded the bishops that the Church must “never get tired of being the advocate of life, and should never step back from proclaiming that human life must be protected unconditionally from conception to natural death.”

Any compromise on this issue, he added, “makes one guilty of being part of a ‘throwaway culture,’” in a society where the suffering of the weakest and most defenseless — the unborn, the elderly, and the sick — have left their wounds. “All of us in the end will suffer the painful consequences,” he said.

The Pope thanked the German Church for helping refugees through providing shelter and humanitarian aid.


In his homily this morning, the Pope referred to the day’s readings: the reconsecration of the Holy Temple in the book of Maccabees after it had been destroyed by pagans and those obsessed by worldliness; and Jesus’ driving of the merchants from the temple (Luke 19:45-48).

The Pope noted that at the time of the Maccabees, worldly desire “displaced the Living God”. In Jesus’ time, the chief priests and scribes had “dishonored the Temple”, the symbol of the Church. When the Church enters “such a state of decline, the end is bad. Very bad indeed,” he said.  

Corruption is always a danger within the Church, the Pope said, and instead of devotion to the faith, she becomes “dominated by money and power.” The chief priests, he said, “did not know how to worship the Lord because they were too distracted by money and power, and by a form of worldliness”. The Church must not worship “holy bribery”, the Pope said, but turn to Jesus’ love where there is “no room for worldliness” or corruption.

“We must never seek comfort in another master,” the Pope said, but pray that we may “never fall into the trap of worldliness where we will be obsessed only by money and power.”