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Even an issue such as the refusal to allow remarried divorcees, such as German President Christian Wulff, to accept communion sparks heated discussions over how the church can hold up its claims of mercifulness and forgiveness.

A recent poll indicated most Germans don’t think the papal visit is particularly important. Only 14 percent of 1,008 Germans surveyed by the Forsa Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis on Sept. 8 and 9 said the visit was of personal importance to them, compared with 55 percent that said it held “no importance whatsoever.”

“There is a great potential in religion, when it is able to carry a message of hope, but that is not happening right now,” Mr. Meisner said.

The potentially most sensitive topic in Germany is the church’s handling of last year’s sex abuse scandal. Hundreds of Germans came forward with claims that they had been sexually or physically abused by Catholic priests.

The claims sparked soul-searching within the church and prompted Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who heads the German Bishops Conference, to call for a process of dialogue in the church here.

Asked in an interview with the news agency Dapd whether the pope would meet with abuse victims, as he has done on trips to the United States and Great Britain, Archbishop Zollitsch refused to comment, although local media have reported that such plans have been made.

“The pope knows the reality of this issue in our country. I cannot say whether — and, if so, how — he will address it,” Archbishop Zollitsch said.

Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report.