German Catholics, religious groups founded in 1844 by dissidents from the Roman Catholic Church. They were led by two excommunicated priests, Johann Czerski of Schneidemühl, Posen, and Johann Ronge of Breslau. The church, organized by a council in Leipzig in 1845 under the name of Deutsche-katholische Kirche, was attractive to Roman Catholics because it retained the traditional practices of baptism and communion. In keeping with the rationalism and nationalism of the period, it rejected papal primacy, celibacy, indulgences, devotion to saints, veneration of relics, and all but the above-mentioned sacraments. Following an early period of growth, with several hundred congregations consisting of some 80,000 members, a slow decline set in. Roman Catholics who had sought reform became disillusioned following the merger with the Protestant Free Congregations in 1850, and the later merger of many of these churches with the Friends of Light, an anti-Christian sect. Greatly reduced in membership, several German Catholic churches survived into the 20th cent.
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