Germany and the Holy See: bilateral relations Holy See

05.08.2019 - Article

Relations between the Holy See and the Federal Republic of Germany have traditionally been good. German Federal Presidents paid state visits to the Vatican in 1957, 1973, 1982 and 1994. This trend was continued by Federal President Roman Herzog, who paid an official visit in 1995 and by President Johannes Rau, who visited in March 2004. Federal President Horst Köhler attended Pope John Paul II’s funeral and Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural Mass in April 2005 and met with the Pope on 17 November 2006 at the Vatican. On 4 December 2009, the Augsburger Domsingknaben and the Residenz‑Kammerorchester München performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in the Sistine Chapel in honour of Pope Benedict XVI and in the presence of Federal President Köhler. On 5 December 2009, Federal President Köhler was granted a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Federal President Joachim Gauck paid an official visit to the Vatican in 2012. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel attended Pope Francis I’s inaugural Mass on 19 March 2013 and was received in private audience on 18 May 2013. The Federal Chancellor became the first Head of Government to have a second private audience with Pope Francis on 21 February 2015. Federal Chancellor Merkel also attended the presentation of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen to Pope Francis at the Vatican on 6 May 2016; this was followed by her third private audience with the Pope. Further meetings took place in connection with the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome on 24 March 2017 and with regard to the G20 Presidency on 17 June 2017. When attending the inaugural Mass in 2013, German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert invited Pope Francis to visit Germany. Lammert paid another official visit to the Vatican on 14 and 15 September 2015 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of German reunification. Various visits took place in 2017 to mark the Reformation 500 years ago. The anniversary year was concluded with a private audience granted by Pope Francis to Federal President Steinmeier on 9 October 2017. Pope Francis has also received a number of Minister‑Presidents in connection with the concordat agreements with Germany’s federal states.

2011 Papal visit

After attending the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne and spending a few days in his native Bavaria in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI paid his first official visit to Germany from 22 to 25 September 2011 at the invitation of then Federal President Wulff. This visit marked a high point in relations between Germany and the Holy See.

In Berlin, where the last previous papal visit was that by Pope John Paul II in 1996, the official programme included a welcome with military honours by the Federal President, talks with the Federal Chancellor and a speech to the German Bundestag at the invitation of its President. The Pope’s talks in Erfurt with representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which took place in the city’s historic Augustinian monastery, where Martin Luther had been a member of the order prior to 1517, sent a strong message in terms of ecumenical relations in the “land of the Reformation”. The focus in Freiburg was on pastoral matters.

Concordats with Germany and the German federal states

Germany and its federal states have concluded the following concordats with the Holy See:

Concordat between the Holy See and the German Empire of 20 July 1933 (the legality and continuing validity of which was recognised and confirmed by a ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on 26 March 1957); Concordat with Bavaria of 29 March 1924; Concordat with Prussia of 14 June 1929; Concordat with Baden of 12 October 1932.

More recently, the Holy See has also entered into concordat agreements with individual federal states, including Lower Saxony (26 February 1965), Rhineland-Palatinate (15 May 1973), North Rhine‑Westphalia (26 March 1984), Saarland (12 February 1985), Saxony (3 July 1996), Thuringia (11 June 1997), Mecklenburg‑Western Pomerania (22 December 1997), Saxony‑Anhalt (22 April 1998), Bremen (14 May 2004), Brandenburg (25 May 2004), Hamburg (October 2006) and Schleswig‑Holstein (12 January 2009).

These concordats and concordat agreements mainly deal with the following issues:

  • freedom of worship, free conferral of ecclesiastical offices, guarantee of the Church’s right to own and administer property;
  • joint affairs of church and state, such as religious education, theological faculties, pastoral care in prisons and the military, cemetery law, marital law and church tax law, state payments, building costs, government grants and discharging debts to the state.

New diocesan borders: In 1994, in the wake of German reunification, the borders of the dioceses in the territory of the former GDR, and consequently those in northern Germany, were redrawn. An archdiocese was established in Hamburg, Berlin was upgraded to an archdiocese and Magdeburg, Erfurt and Görlitz became dioceses.

Key German‑language Catholic institutions in Rome

  • Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum (college for training candidates for the priesthood), Rector: P. Stefan Dartmann S.J.
  • Santa Maria in Campo Santo Teutonico (priests college for postgraduate studies), Rector: Dr Hans‑Peter Fischer
  • Römisches Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft, Managing Director: Monseigneur Professor Dr Stefan Heid
  • Santa Maria dell’Anima (priests college for postgraduate studies), Rector: Franz Xaver Brandmayr

German members of the College of Cardinals

(Eight cardinals, five of which are ineligible to participate in the papal conclave due to their age, listed here in order of appointment)

  • 1985 Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, until 2007 Archbishop of Munich and Freising
  • 2002 Cardinal Walter Kasper, Curial Cardinal Emeritus and until June 2010 President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
  • 2002 Cardinal Paul-Josef Cordes, Curial Cardinal Emeritus and until 2010 President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
  • 2010 Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising and since 2014 also Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, member of the Council of Cardinals and Coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE)
  • 2010 Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Curial Cardinal Emeritus and until 2009 President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences
  • 2012 Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne
  • 2014 Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and until 2012 Bishop of Regensburg
  • 2015 Cardinal Karl‑Josef Rauber, Titular Archbishop Emeritus of Iubaltiana and until 2009 Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg


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