Protests and Boycotts in First Official Papal Visit to Germany

Pope Benedict XVI divided the capital of his native land on Thursday, celebrating Mass for more than 60,000 followers while thousands of opponents marched through the streets to protest his visit.

Protesters gathered in Potsdamer Platz, just a mile from the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, where Benedict addressed members in the afternoon. The police estimated that 9,000 had gathered to register their disapproval of church policies. Demonstrators aired a wide range of criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church and Benedict, its leader, on subjects that included the role of women in the church, gay rights and victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Dozens of members of Parliament boycotted his address. “Never before in history has a pope spoken before an elected German Parliament,” said Norbert Lammert, the president of the Bundestag, who invited the pope to address lawmakers. “And seldom has a speech in this house created so much attention and interest before it was even given.”

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, had addressed the Italian Parliament and several others, and last year Benedict spoke before the British political establishment in Westminster Hall, but the address on Thursday was his first before a legislative body.

The church in Germany was rocked by the revelation last year of hundreds of previously unreported cases of sexual and physical abuse of children by members of the clergy and other church employees. But the declining standing of the church here is as much about an increasingly secular society.

“I have no idea why the pope should be talking in our parliament,” said Uwe Meissner, 52, among thousands of protesters gathered to oppose Benedict’s address. “I thought we had separation of church and state here in our country.”

Those expecting a controversial address were most likely disappointed. In comments that verged at times on the academic, the theologian pope spoke about the importance of responsibility of political leaders, and touched on several themes at the heart of his papacy: the fight against secularism and relativism. He also called for a debate on ethics.

The leading voices opposing his appearance included the Green Party. Hans-Christian Ströbele, a Green Party lawmaker, stood up and left as the speech began. Benedict then singled his party out for praise.

“The emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s,” Benedict said, represented a “cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside.” His comments prompted a burst of spontaneous applause, though he noted that he was not engaging in “propaganda” for any particular political party, leading to laughter on the floor.

Dozens of members of the far-left Left Party as well as some Social Democrats boycotted the event.

Benedict returned to his native Germany for the third time since becoming pope in 2005, but it was his first official state visit. Attitudes have changed sharply since he was first named pope, and Germans, whether Catholic or not, celebrated his selection.

On the plane ride from Rome to Berlin, Benedict said that the protests were a natural part of a free society. He also addressed the sexual abuse of children by priests. “I can understand that some people have been scandalized by the crimes that have been revealed in recent times,” he said, according to The Associated Press. Benedict said that there were both “good and bad fish in the Lord’s net.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff met Benedict’s Alitalia plane when it landed Thursday at Tegel Airport. Cannons fired a 21-gun salute to welcome the pope. Benedict, clad in white with a gold cross hanging on a chain, walked the red carpet on the tarmac.

Protesters gathered in Potsdamer Platz carrying signs reading “I was sexually abused by the Church,” and “Pope, go home.” The demonstrators included some of the lawmakers who had boycotted the pope’s speech to the Bundestag. Trade unions were there, too, along with 60 organizations representing a variety of groups, including gay men and lesbians, human-rights organizations and women’s movements.

Stefan Kelermann, 34, said he had come to demonstrate because of the pope’s policies toward family planning. “We have so many problems in the world, so many women having no choice about how many children they want and can feed, that I just wonder what kind of world the Catholic Church is living in,” said Mr. Kelermann, a shop manager.

The Mass on Thursday night was celebrated in Olympic Stadium, which was built to host the 1936 Olympic Games, widely viewed as a coming-out party for Hitler’s regime three years after he took power.

In his comments before lawmakers, Benedict acknowledged Germany’s history of aggression in the 20th century, saying Germans “have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right.” Benedict, who came from an anti-Nazi family and was an unwilling member of the Hitler Youth, praised those who resisted the Nazis.

Catholics came from all over Germany and beyond to celebrate Mass with the pope. There were numerous Polish and Croatian flags hung inside the stadium. Christiane Longardt, a Catholic schoolteacher in Berlin, brought her two sons to hear the pope, whom she had seen once before on a trip to Rome.

“Somehow it is extremely moving,” Ms. Longardt said of being in the pope’s presence. As for the boycotting of his address by lawmakers, she said she found it “close-minded.”

“The Catholics that I know are quite open in discussing and even criticizing the church from the inside,” she said. “It doesn’t have to always come from outside.”

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Conference Promotes Dialogue About Voices of Sexual Diversity and the Church

Catholics academics, professionals and pastoral workers were among the speakers at a recent Fordham University conference, which sought, according to the program, to “raise awareness and generate informed conversation about sexual diversity issues within the community of faith and in the broader civic world that the Catholic Church and the Catholic people inhabit.”

The conference, held on Sept. 16, was titled “Learning to Listen: Voices of Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church,” and was the first of a four-part series called “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church.” The series also will include conferences hosted by Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School and Fairfield University. Although the conferences are thematically connected, each one has been independently planned by its respective institution. Each one seeks to more clearly depict the experience of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in the church.

Approximately 370 people attended the Fordham conference, which was made up of three panel discussions. During a press conference, Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., Professor of Catholic Studies and Director of the Center for American Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, said that while many people are aware of the church’s teachings on sexual ethics, he hoped the conferences would help speak to issues that are not directly addressed by those teachings.

“When you say more than a monologue, people say, ‘Oh, the bishops are the monologue, and now we want to get all the other voices in,’ but that’s not strictly the case,” Lakeland said. “There’s a monologue in the sense that: wherever you stand in the debate on sexual ethics, that’s a sort of monologue.” Views on both sides are often one-dimensional, he added. “But when we ask questions—What is the experience of gay and lesbian Catholics in the church? Or what about teen suicide? Or what about the relationship between the church and the legal system as they look at sam…..

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Ex-nun a cardinal sinner in the mind of the church

PATRICIA Fresen prefers being quietly subversive to openly confrontational, but the 70-year-old former Dominican nun is like a purple rag to a bull to the Vatican.
She says she is a Catholic woman bishop, properly ordained by a male bishop in the sacrament passed down by laying on hands from the first apostles. The official church says that by that act she ceased to be a Catholic and it has excommunicated her (banned her from the church).

Bishop Fresen – now a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests church – rejects the excommunication.

In Australia to speak to progressive Catholic groups, the former South African says apartheid taught her about unjust laws. ”We learnt through people like [Nelson] Mandela and [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu that if you have tried and tried to change unjust laws the only way, in the end, is to break them. An unjust law must not be obeyed but broken.”

She also suggests that she is in plentiful company because, according to church law, vast numbers of Catholics are automatically excommunicated – if they use artificial contraception, if they divorce and remarry without church approval, if they are gay and sexually active.

Roman Catholic WomenPriests was launched in 2002 when an anonymous Catholic bishop ordained seven women secretly on a boat on the Danube. Bishop Fresen was ordained a priest in 2003, a bishop in 2005 and excommunicated in 2007.

Now the group has nearly 200 women priests in North America and Europe, with a toehold in Colombia, plus three male priests. Bishop Fresen suspects they may soon be joined by some Australian women.

Usually, a woman who becomes a priest in her group is already supported by a community. ”I recently travelled down the east coast of the US. When I first saw the communities they were little groups of five, six, or eight; now there are in the hundreds,” Bishop Fresen says.

”Nearly all are people on the fringes of the church, who want to be Catholic but are very critical of some aspects. They are forming churches with much more communitarian structures, much more accountability on the part of the leaders.”

Now based in Germany, Bishop Fresen predicts a time of massive change.
”Benedict, a German Pope, is very unpopular in Germany. He’s become a figure of fun. I think he’s bringing the papacy to a quick end, and I don’t think there will be many more popes elected this way,” she says.

The authoritarian structure based on the Pope and Vatican bureaucracy is collapsing, she says, and soon the Bishop of Rome will be just another Italian bishop. But the church will survive, and she will be a part. ”I am still a Roman Catholic, very much on the edges. They don’t want me, but I’m not going. As [theologian] Hans Kung says, ‘Less Pope, more Jesus.’ ”

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Theologian Hans Küng on Pope Benedict ‘A Putinization of the Catholic Church’

On Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Germany for a long-awaited visit. Prominent Swiss theologian Hans Küng explains to SPIEGEL why the papal visit will do little to help the crisis in the Church and compares Benedict to Vladimir Putin in the way he has centralized power.

Full Interview HERE!

Hans Küng, 83, was one of the Catholic theologians who, like the then-theology professor Joseph Ratzinger, helped shape the Second Vatican Council at the beginning of the 1960s and pushed for more openness within the Catholic Church. In 1979, Küng, who was teaching theology in the German city of Tübingen at the time, publicly criticized the dogma of papal infallibility. The Vatican responded by revoking his permission to teach. Today, Küng is still a Catholic priest and heads the Tübingen-based Global Ethic institute, which he founded.

Germans ambivalent about ‘their’ pope’s visit: poll

More than eight out of 10 Germans expressed indifference at a forthcoming visit by the pope, a poll showed last Wednesday, eight days before Benedict XVI’s first official trip to his native land.

The Forsa institute survey showed that 86 percent of people thought the visit was “basically unimportant” or “totally unimportant” for them personally.

Of those who said they were Catholic, 63 percent shared this opinion, according to the poll of 1,008 respondents, compiled on September 8 and 9.

The survey came as a court in Berlin, the pontiff’s first stop on his four-day trip, banned anti-pope protestors from marching from the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people, representing around 60 associations from gays to alleged victims of physical or sexual abuse at the hands of priests, were expected to demonstrate against the pope, organisers said.

Guenter Dworek, head of Germany’s lesbian and gay federation, told AFP: “We wanted to demonstrate as close as possible to where the event is taking place and begin within earshot of the Reichstag,” the parliament building in Berlin.

Benedict is to give a speech in the parliament, which some deputies have vowed to boycott amid concerns over the separation of church and state.

The planned itinerary of the demonstration “is not compatible with the high level of potential risk and the particular demands that come when protecting the pope,” said the court in a statement.

Initially feted as the first German-born pope in 500 years, Benedict’s image in Germany has suffered following a series of controversies and a high-profile sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church last year.

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