Rome (AP) – Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas also wants to speak at a private audience with Pope Francis about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. This is a question that affects many people and determines their relationship to their religious community, Maas said after arriving in Rome. He is interested in “how the Catholic Church and in particular how the Pope wants to deal with it”. Maas is the first German Foreign Minister to be received by the Pope for a private audience for nearly 20 years.
Recently, the way the Archdiocese of Cologne handled the abuse of children by priests caused a stir. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki had for a long time refused an opinion on this, citing legal objections.
Maas emphasized that dealing with the abuse is not only a matter for the church. State clarification is required, especially when it comes to criminal matters. “In this regard, the state cannot at all stay out of this issue if there are victims who have a right to hold the perpetrators to account.”
Prior to the conversation, Maas also welcomed the blessing services for heterosexual and gay couples, with which German Catholics had consciously opposed a ban from the Vatican on Monday. In total, about 100 services were held. An action of this type and magnitude had never taken place in the church before.
‘In any case, I see that in parts of the Catholic Church there is a lot of openness to social developments that cannot be ignored,’ says Maas. “I am delighted that these discussions are being re-initiated and deepened.”
In March, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made it clear that it was “not permissible” to bless homosexual partnerships, as such relationships “could not be recognized as objectively in accordance with God’s revealed plans.” Numerous Catholic associations and more than 280 theology professors protested against this in German-speaking countries.
Another sensitive topic that could play a role in the conversation between Maas and Francis: The Pope is campaigning for a weakening of patent protection for corona vaccines to speed up the immunization of people in poor countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has spoken out clearly against it, while Maas has shown a certain openness to soften patent protection. “If that’s a way to get more people to get vaccines faster, that’s a question we need to ask ourselves,” the SPD politician said last week.
In fact, private audiences with the Pope are reserved for the Heads of State or Government and, in the case of Germany, also for the Prime Ministers of State, as they are contractual partners of the Holy See. The last Secretary of State to have a private audience with the Pope so far was Joschka Fischer in 2003.
The Catholic and former acolyte Maas said it was his personal wish to speak with the Pope. He appreciates Francis for his “very unconventional” demeanor.
After the audience, Maas meets the Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. This will include the increasing flow of refugees across the Mediterranean. Maas called on the other EU countries to show solidarity with Italy, where a lot of people go ashore. “We are fundamentally convinced that Italy cannot be left alone with this situation,” he said.
In the last few days, considerably more boat migrants, mainly from Libya and Tunisia, have arrived on the small Mediterranean island of Lampedusa – in a short time it was more than 2000. A spokesman for the European Commission said Germany and the other EU countries have not yet offered that Italy should take in some of the migrants.
Maas said Germany has received refugees from Italy and Greece in the past. The federal government will continue to campaign within the European Union for others to do the same. “It cannot be that the issue of migration becomes the exclusive issue of some European Member States that are willing to accept refugees.”
The corona pandemic and the declining number of infections in Europe should also play a role in the discussion in view of the summer holidays. Italy is the second most popular holiday destination for Germans after Spain and hopes that tourists will return this summer.