Pope disappoints hopes of Catholics and Protestants

Pope Benedict’s visit to his German homeland was bound to provoke harsh words from his critics. The surprise of the event was how bluntly he took his own Church to task and disappointed Protestants ready to work with him.

Despite his frail physique and soft-spoken style, the 84-year-old pontiff delivered a vigorous defense of his conservative views and brusquely rejected calls for reforms, some of which even had cautious support from some bishops.

At the end of his four-day visit on Sunday, Benedict predicted “small communities of believers” would spread Catholicism in future — and not, he seemed to say, the rich German Church, which he hinted had more bureaucracy than belief.

Some Church leaders fear they may end up with only small communities if they don’t consider reforms. Record numbers of the faithful have officially quit the Church in recent years, often in protest against clerical sex abuse scandals.

“The pope was demanding, almost hard — not in his manner, but in the essence of his words,” Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily commented. “Nobody should be fooled by his fragility.”

“The pope sees the signs of the times, but interprets them not as a demand to courageously open up the Catholic Church but, on the contrary, to close its ranks.”

Breaking down faith barriers is a major issue in the land of the Protestant Reformation. Christians are equally divided between Catholics and Protestants in Germany and intermarriage and ecumenical cooperation make both sides ask why old divisions still exist.

Politicians from President Christian Wulff down publicly told the pope they hoped his visit would help to bring the churches closer. One suggestion was to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to take communion when they attend Catholic mass.


Benedict made a historic gesture for interchurch unity by presiding over a prayer service with a Protestant bishop in the Erfurt monastery where the 16th-century reformer Martin Luther lived as a monk before he split with Rome.

But in his speech to Protestant leaders there, he bluntly told them they were mistaken to expect him to come bearing gifts, like a political leader coming to negotiate a treaty.

His hosts, who would have been happy with vague words about the need to look into some problems, instead heard a short lecture about how Christian faith could not be negotiated.

Benedict’s Protestant host in Erfurt, Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, stressed the bright side of the meeting — the pope’s positive words about Luther’s deep faith — and added: “Our heart burns for more, and that was clear today.”

German media were less diplomatic. “An ecumenical disaster,” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, blasting Benedict’s treatment of Protestant leaders as “spectacularly half-hearted, patronizing and callous.”

The lay Catholic group We Are Church said the faithful should stop hoping for help from Rome. The churches in Germany should simply “declare the unspeakable 500-year-old split in Christianity to be ended,” it said in a statement.

“Let’s do what unites us,” it declared.

Catholics weren’t spared either. Another reform proposal was to allow Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive communion at mass, something now barred to them because the Church upholds the sanctity of the first marriage.

Even Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said before the visit he hoped to see some change in coming years to prevent the rising number of divorced Catholics feeling excluded from the Church.

Benedict passed over that idea in silence.


By contrast, Benedict was loud and clear in criticizing the German Church as too bureaucratic and focused on organizational changes rather than on the zeal of true faith, which he said was the key to confronting its problems.

He told this to the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), some of whose members have called for moderate reforms such as allowing women deacons to help at mass or ordaining older married men to counter the shortage of priests.

If a stranger from a far country visited Germany, he told them, he would find it materially rich and religiously poor.

“The real crisis of the Church in the Western world is a crisis of belief,” Benedict said. “If we don’t find a way to really renew the faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.”

The next day, he repeated this message to a wide range of lay Catholics working with and for the Church. He said they could only face the challenges ahead if they closed ranks with their bishops and with the Vatican.

“It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church,” he said, but of putting strategy aside and “living the faith fully, here and now.”

ZdK president Alois Glueck was not convinced. “It’s not a question of either promoting introspection and prayer or changing Church structures,” he said. “We have to link both these things.”

Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the most influential daily in the pope’s native Bavaria, summed up the trip with the headline: “He came, he spoke and he disappointed.”

Full Article HERE!

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.”

Full Article HERE!

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.

Philadelphia Cardinal Rigali resigns after abuse probe

The archbishop of the US city of Philadelphia has resigned, months after renewed accusations that the Catholic Church covered up child sex abuse.

Cardinal Justin Rigali had submitted his resignation in April 2010 upon turning 75, but Pope Benedict XVI did not act on it until now.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of the US city of Denver is to replace him.

US grand juries in 2005 and 2011 said the church protected abuser priests and left some in contact with children.
Time limits

Cardinal Rigali has been Philadelphia archbishop since 2003 and his retirement was expected this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In 2005, a Philadelphia grand jury said Cardinal Rigali’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bevilacqua, and his predecessor, Cardinal John Krol, knew priests were sexually abusing children but transferred the priests among parishes.

Time limits prevented that panel from bringing charges, however.

The archdiocese reacted by saying the grand jury’s report was “discriminatory” and “sensationalised” and accused investigators of “bullying” Cardinal Bevilacqua during his testimony sessions.

Cardinal Bevilacqua, however, repeated “my heartfelt and sincere apologies” to abuse victims.
Priests suspended

Then, in February 2011 a second grand jury report said at least 37 priests were kept in assignments that exposed them to children despite “substantial evidence of abuse”.

Cardinal Rigali responded by suspending more than 20 priests.

His successor, Cardinal Chaput, 66, is known as a staunch conservative and a vigorous opponent of abortion rights.

Last year he defended the decision by a Catholic school in Denver, Colorado to expel two children of a lesbian couple.


Catholic Church Denies Legal Responsibility For Abuse

A hearing into whether the church has the same legal obligations towards priests as employers towards employees, could have massive ramifications.

The Roman Catholic Church is taking the unprecedented step of arguing in court that is is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests, arguing that the relationship between a Catholic priest and the bishop of the local diocese is not an employment relationship and therefore the diocese does not have vicarious liability.

There have been thousands of accusations around the world of abuse by priests but the majority of legal cases have been settled out of court or withdrawn.

This is thought to be the first time that the Church has gone to court to defend itself against accusations specificially relating to liability.

The three day hearing, started last Tuesday, is part of a wider civil action being brought by a woman known only as Miss JGE.

She claims to have been sexually abused while living in a children’s home run an order of nuns, the English Province of Our Lady of Charity.

She alleges that she was sexually abused by a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, Father Baldwin, who died in 2006.

The claim in that case, due to start in December, will be that the nuns were negligent and in breach of duty, and that the diocese was vicariously liable for the abuse because Father Baldwin was a Catholic priest engaged within the work of the Portsmouth diocese.

However the hearing this week will not deal with the allegations of abuse at all, but will centre on the ‘corporate responsibility’ of the church in abuse cases.

If the claim is upheld, the church will be found legally responsible for the sexual abuse committed by their priests.

The solicitor representing Miss JGE, Tracey Emmott, said: “The most astonishing point to me to emerge from this tragic and sordid case is that the Catholic church is claiming that it isn’t legally responsible for the behaviour of its own priest.

“We need to show that while Father Baldwin wasn’t strictly an employee of the church, he was acting on the bishop’s behalf and that the bishop clearly had a degree of control over his activities.”

Ms Emmott said that the consequences of the Catholic Church winning the point was that they would be able to avoid compensating all victims of sexual abuse by priests.

The Catholic Church and the Portsmouth Diocese said they would not comment until the end of the hearing.