Catholic priest banned from preaching for speaking at anti-Islam protest

Thousands of protesters marched in Dusseldorf in support of the anti-immigration movement PEGIDA. Others demonstrated against them.(Photo: Reuters/Ina Fassbender)

German Catholic priest Father Paul Spaetling has been forbidden from preaching or speak on behalf of the Church after participating in a rally organised by a group associated with the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA).

According to the Associated Press, Spaetling spoke at the anti-Islam protest that took place in the western city of Duisburg on Monday and was banned a few days later by the diocese of Muenster, which said in a statement that it rejected the priest's views on Islam.

PEGIDA, the organiser of the rally, is an anti-immigrant organisation that sees "a dangerous rise in the influence of Islam" in Western countries, according to the BBC.

Al Jazeera America reports the group is also worried that "Germany's doors are too open" to refugees, many of which in recent years have come from Syria and Iraq, both besieged by the Islamic extremist group ISIS.

"Germany's becoming the world's welfare office," said Detlev, a German living in Switzerland who travelled to Dresden to join a PEGIDA demonstration and declined to give his last name. "That has to change."

Another demonstrator, who refused to give his name, told Al Jazeera, "No one's controlling where these people are coming from. I'm just here to show we're not OK with what's going on."

Earlier in January, PEGIDA drew a record number of 25,000 demonstators after the Paris terror attacks that left 17 people dead.

Reuters reports that while maintaining they are not racist and are "careful to distinguish between Islamists and most of Germany's 4 million Muslims," PEGIDA protesters have been seen bearing banners that say "No Sharia" and "In 2035 Germans will be a minority!"

PEGIDA co-founder Kathrin Oertel also told Reuters, "Every religion is welcome in Germany, but you can't try to influence German culture and life."

More recently, the group's leader Lutz Bachmann made news after reportedly calling refugees "animals" and "scumbags" on Facebook and posing as Hitler in a picture. Though the group is trying to play down the Hitler photo as a "joke," Bachmann has decided to step down from his position.