Pope Benedict not fully welcome at German parliament next year

December 17, 2010


(Photo: The Reichstag building in Berlin, November 22, 2010/Pawel Kopczynski)

A rousing welcome in Berlin it may not be.

Pope Benedict’s invitation to address German parliament during his visit to his homeland next September 22-25 has not sat well with some members of the opposition. Volker Beck, the Green party floor leader, has protested that inviting a religious leader to address parliament, the Bundestag, is unprecedented and the wrong place to speak about religion.

“The German Bundestag is justifiably cautious when inviting a foreign head of state,” Beck told the German daily Die Welt. “Firstly the pope is the head of a religion and secondly the head of a state.”

beckOnly foreign heads of state are invited to address the Bundestag. Earlier this year Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke to German parliament. Benedict is a head of state, so he fits the qualification, but Beck argued that he was first and foremost a religious leader and a head of state after that. He added that he didn’t know which other religious leaders would then need to be invited to address parliament in the interest of religious diversity if Benedict speaks.

(Photo: Volker Beck making a speech about in Tibet in the Bundestag in Berlin, April 10, 2008/Hannibal Hanschke)

Germany’s Christian Social Union — the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats — said that Beck’s opposition was simply opposition grandstanding. Bavaria, a Catholic stronghold, is also where the pope was raised and served as an archbishop in Munich.

More pressure, however, could come from outside groups, especially those opposed to the Vatican’s policies toward homosexuality. “The invitation for the pope to speak in the German parliament is completely incomprehensible,” Manfred Burns, the spokesman of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, said in a statement. “The Bundestag genuflects before a religious leader … who refuses to acknowledge our constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination.”

Beck, who is openly gay and a longtime gay rights advocate, said that his party wasn’t “for or against” the pope but that religion is a debate that belongs outside of the Bundestag.

Other groups may raise their voice as well. The decision by a government-appointed panel to start a 120 million fund for children abused while in foster care, the majority of which were in Protestant or Catholic church-run homes, sparked outrage by a victims’ group, claiming that the compensation was too little.  The pope has also recently been criticised for allegedly letting a known pedophile priest continue to work with children while he was archbishop.

berlin pope 1

And then there are always Berlin’s famous anarchist groups who relish protesting against anyone in authority, such as those at right who dressed as nuns for an anti-pope protest there during Pope John Paul’s visit in 1996 (photo: Lutz Schmidt).

During that visit, we ran the following urgent story as he made his way down the Unter den Linden boulevard towards the Brandenburg Gate:

Hecklers jeer Pope in Berlin.

BERLIN, June 23 (Reuters) – Hundreds of hecklers hurled abuse and made obscene gestures at Pope John Paul on Sunday as he made his way by Popemobile to the Brandenburg Gate for a farewell ceremony wrapping up his visit to Germany.

“Get lost,” protesters yelled at the 76-year-old Pontiff, who smiled and waved but gave no apparent sign that he was taking notice of the disturbance along Unter den Linden.

Police tried desperately but in vain to control the protesters, who yelled “Go to hell” and whistled their disapproval, eyewitnesses said.

Officers hauled away a few naked protesters who ran into the street.

This visit, which will also take him to Freiburg and Erfurt, will be Benedict’s first official visit to his homeland as pope. His two other trips, to Cologne for the World Youth Day festival in 2005 and a tour of his native Bavaria the following year, were classified as “apostolic visits.”

by Eric Kelsey, Berlin

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