Cardinal Reinhard Marx has called for a reduction in the number of refugees Germany takes in. The president of the German bishops' conference has been, at the same time, one of the staunchest supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel's "Open Doors" policy.
Asked how long he thought Germany would be able to keep up its compassionate policy towards refugees, Marx told the German daily Passauer Neue Presse on Feb. 6 that refugee policy was not only a matter of compassion but also of common sense.
"Politics must always also be oriented towards what is possible and there are certainly limits as far as refugee influx is concerned," he pointed out. "We, that is the German church, also say that we need to reduce the number of refugees we let into the country. Germany cannot take in all the world's needy."
Compassion, however, knows no limits and asylum law must be adhered to, which means that everyone who sets foot on European soil has to receive a fair legal hearing, he explained.
The situation in countries that border Europe has become more precarious in recent years, and migrant pressure had grown.
"The problem will not grow smaller if we close the frontiers, however," Marx said. "When I visited the U.S.-Mexican border last year and saw the Mexico-United States barrier with its series of walls, I thought to myself that cannot be the future of European borders."
Europe's prime aim must be to combat the causes of why people left their homelands and to make it possible for people to emigrate to Europe legally and thus put a stop to human trafficking, he underlined.
He said he respects Merkel and her refugee policy "which is not starry-eyed but well thought through."
Asked how much influence events in Cologne on New Year's Eve, when crowds of North African immigrants sexually abused women on the cathedral square, had had on the refugee debate, Marx admitted that what had happened in Cologne frightened Germans and exacerbated the refugee controversies.
Immigrants who committed crimes must be punished or, when possible, deported, he said, but he added that blanket criticism of other cultures and religions must be avoided.
Germany has "sadly" always had a certain potential for right-wing extremism and racism, Marx said. He was horrified by the extent of the present nationalist propaganda against refugees, which now even includes the middle-classes.
"The varnish of civilization is obviously not as thick as we always thought up to now," he said.
Marx, who is also a member of the Council of Cardinals, was asked how much he thought Pope Francis had changed the church since his visit to Lampedusa three years ago.
"In my view, a great deal has changed," Marx said. "The pope has focused on a different language, different top priorities. Of course he doesn't want to create a new church from one day to the next, but he has got things moving. Francis wants to rattle our thinking a little. He wants us to break out of our self-centeredness."
Did he think that decisive changes would be made as a result of the Synod of Bishops on the family?
"I am not counting on any decisive changes," he said. "The world church cannot simply go by what we in Germany think is right. I, myself, could perhaps have imagined that more might have come out of the synod, but the very meaning of the word synod means everyone taking steps together. It is matter of recognizing diversity as something positive and accepting the reality of people's lives. That comes out well in the final synod text. Francis wants us to move forward together in the church and not for there to be winners and losers."