Archbishop Joachim Meisner of Cologne, a German cardinal of the Catholic Church, landed in hot water for a comment that offended many Muslims living in the diverse city.
While speaking on Friday to members of a conservative Catholic group, Meisner praised the large size of many of the families present. He commented, "I always say, one of your families to me makes up for three Muslim families," reports The Local.
Muslim organizations and politicians from the Social Democrat and Green parties said that the comments "stunned" them. Bekir Alboga of the Turkish-Islamic Union Ditib told Deutsche Welle that the remarks promoted "fear and misunderstanding," according to Yahoo News. "We need a bridge-builder, not a polariser," he continued.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Minister for Integration, Guntram Schneider, agreed according to The Local, saying that he was "very disappointed that a leading representative of the Catholic Church is pitting people of different faiths against each other." The state's Minister for Schools, Sylvia Löhrmann, also chimed in, commenting, "Ranking the values of families, and thus children, on the basis of their religious affiliation isn't just against the constitution, it is also anything but Christian."
Meisner apologized in a statement on Wednesday, expressing his regret that his comments had caused such "irritation."
"It was never my intention to offend those of other faiths with this...perhaps my choice of words in this case was unfortunate," he said. "I have repeatedly stated that in many cases Muslim families set an example to our ageing society."
Meisner, age 80, is due to retire in one month.