Several German bishops have been embroiled in a number of controversies in recent months, some of which have also led to tensions with the Vatican, in particular pertaining to the reception of the Eucharist by Protestants who are married to Catholics - a practice now officially established in several German dioceses - along with the reception of the Eucharist by divorced-and-remarried Catholics.
At least one bishop recently voiced support for a 'church strike' advocating women's ordination.
Last month, Pope Francis sent a 28-page letter to Catholics in Germany calling for a focus on evangelization in the face of the "erosion" and "decline of the faith" in the country.
In his letter, Pope Francis issued a warning about the "synodal path," a process announced the German bishops' conference in March. The conference said issues of priestly celibacy, the Church's teaching on sexual morality, and a reduction of clerical power would be subject to a process of "synodal progression" that could lead to a binding, but as yet undetermined, outcome.
"Synodality presupposes and requires the action of the Holy Spirit," Francis said in the letter.
The pope warned that "despite all serious and inevitable reflection, it is easy to fall into subtle temptations … therefore caution should be exercised, since they, anything but helpful to a common path, hold us in preconceived schemes and mechanisms that end in alienation or limitation of our mission."
The pope also reiterated concerns he raised with the German bishops during their ad limina visit in Rome in November 2015 in which he had already noted a grave lack of participation in the sacraments among Catholics in Germany. He challenged bishops to "pastoral conversion" and warned of "excessive centralization."
"To accept and endure the present situation … is an invitation to face what has died in us and in our congregations, which requires evangelization and visitation by the Lord," Francis said. "But this requires courage, because what we need is much more than structural, organizational or functional change."