Analysis: Pope Benedict disappoints hopes of both German Catholics and Protestants

(Pope Benedict (background R) and Lutheran Bishop Nikolaus Schneider (background L) hold an ecumenical prayer servie in the church of the Augustinian Monastry (Augustinierkloster) in Erfurt September 23, 2011/Max Rossi)

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.”

Pope urges German Catholics to close ranks, some frustrated by lack of change

(Pope Benedict XVI makes an address during a meeting with Catholics involved in the Church and society, at the concert hall in Freiburg September 25, 2011/Miro Kuzmanovic)

Pope Benedict urged Catholics in his native Germany on Sunday to close ranks behind him rather than demand reforms or leave the Church, a staunchly conservative message that some who came to hear him found frustrating. Delivering his last major address of a four-day trip at a mass for about 100,000 people at a small airport near the southwestern city of Freiburg, he said the sometimes fractious Church needed to unite around him and the German bishops.

“The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world if she remains faithfully united with the successor of St Peter,” he said, referring to himself.

Luther rehabilitated? Catholics and Protestants disagree

(Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, painted in 1529)

Among Catholic-Protestant splits on display during Pope Benedict’s visit to Germany is a disagreement over whether Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer who launched the split in western Christianity, has now been rehabilitated.

Pope Leo X cast Luther out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1521 with a vociferous decree branding him “the slave of a depraved mind” and calling his followers a “pernicious and heretical sect.” But his present-day successor, Benedict, spoke so positively of Luther’s deep faith during a visit to the monk’s old monastery in Erfurt on Friday that Germany’s top Protestant bishop announced Luther had effectively been rehabilitated.

“Luther has experienced a de facto rehabilitation today through this appreciation of his work,” Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), announced to journalists on Friday after talks with Benedict. “We heard this very clearly from the mouth of the pope,” he said. “What follows now formally is another question … but that’s not so important for me.”

Pope Benedict says East German Catholics suffered “acid rain” under communism

(Thousands of faithful celebrate a Eucharist service conducted by Pope Benedict XVI at Cathedral Square in Erfurt, September 24, 2011/Alex Domanski)

Pope Benedict has praised Catholics in eastern Germany who held on to their Christian beliefs despite the “acid rain” that corroded their faith under the Nazis and communism. The pope said mass on Saturday for some 30,000 people in the medieval main square of this city in former communist East Germany, where only about seven percent of the people are Catholic.

“You have had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain,” he told the crowd from the altar, set against a hill dominated by Erfurt’s cathedral and another Catholic church. The region was ruled by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945, like all of Germany, and then by the East German communists until after the Berlin Wall opened in 1989.

Pope warns Lutherans of new Christian challengers to mainline churches

(Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) head Bishop Nikolaus Schneider (L) walks to the cloister with Pope Benedict XVI in the Augustinian Monestry (Augustinierkloster) in Erfurt September 23, 2011/Max Rossi_

Pope Benedict, visiting the German monastery where Martin Luther lived before launching the Reformation, warned his Lutheran hosts on Friday that what he called “a new form of Christianity” posed a challenge to mainline Protestants and Catholics alike. While not naming them, it was clear that the pope, whose visit to this small city south of Berlin was sparsely attended, was referring to the evangelical and Pentecostal churches which have been attracting converts from more established churches, especially in Third World countries.

“Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss,” the pope said on the second day of his third trip to his homeland as pontiff. “This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse?”

Pope Benedict wins over German Muslims in first meeting since Regensburg speech

Pope Benedict XVI (2nd L) talks with professor of Islamic theology Ali Dere (R), during a meeting with representatives of the Muslim community at the Papal Nuncio in Berlin September 23, 2011. The Bavarian-born pontiff is on a four-day visit to Germany, his third visit to his homeland since he took over as head of the Catholic church. REUTERS/Wolfgang Radtke

Pope Benedict told German Muslims in Berlin on Friday they can expect cooperation and support from Roman Catholics as long as they respect Germany’s constitution and the limits it sets on pluralism. Meeting representatives of the country’s four million Muslims, he said the constitution drawn up in post-war West Germany was solid enough to adapt to a pluralistic society in a globalised world and make room for new religions as well.

It sounded like the Bavarian-born pontiff was making a veiled reference to a debate in Germany over the past year over Muslim integration in Germany and whether  Muslims wanted sharia here, an issue discussed mostly on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Muslims last year that Islamic law had no place in Germany. “What applies here is the constitution, not sharia,” she declared. When he took office in March, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the idea that “Islam belongs to Germany” — first mentioned by President Christian Wulff last year — “is not substantiated by history at any point.” A recent book “Richter ohne Gesetz” (Judges without Law) argues that Muslims are setting up a “parallel legal system” that is undermining German justice.

German Jews praise Pope Benedict but warn on Pius XII and Holocaust

(Pope Benedict XVI poses for a picture after a meeting with representatives of the Jewish congregation in a room at the German Bundestag lower house of parliament in Berlin, September 22, 2011/Wolfgang Radtke)

Germany’s small Jewish community praised Pope Benedict on Thursday for stressing the common roots of Christianity and Judaism but warned him it would be hurt if he honors wartime Pope Pius XII, who it said was silent during the Holocaust. Dieter Graumann, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, also said Jews were hurt by his support for an ultra-traditionalist Catholic group they consider bigoted against Jews, Muslims, gays, women and Protestants.

The close friendship that has developed between Christians and Jews “must put up with others saying things that hurt,” he told Reuters after he and other Jewish leaders met the pope and Catholic prelates for about 25 minutes.

Pope Benedict urges Germans not to quit Catholic Church over sex abuse scandals

(Pope Benedict XVI disembarks from his plane on arrival at Tegel International airport in Berlin September 22, 2011/Thomas Peter)

Pope Benedict urged the faithful not to leave the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday as he began a four-day visit to Germany, where record numbers have quit the pews in protest against clerical sex abuse of youths. The pope, on his third and toughest trip to his homeland, said on the flight from Rome he understood why some people — especially victims and their loved ones — were “scandalised by these crimes” and say “this is no longer my church”.

But he asked them to see the Church comprised both good and bad, and was struggling to right the wrongs committed in its ranks. Germany has been rocked by the clerical sex scandals that have swept across Europe in the past two years. “The Church is a net of the Lord that pulls in good fish and bad fish,” he said, using the Gospel image of Jesus as a fisherman. “We have to learn to live with the scandals and work against the scandals from inside the great net of the Church.”

Pope Benedict faces toughest visit yet to sceptical German homeland

(Demonstrators hold a poster opposing the visit to Germany by Pope Benedict XVI, during a protest in Berlin September 21, 2011/Thomas Peter)

Pope Benedict starts his most difficult visit yet to his German homeland on Thursday, touring mostly Protestant and atheist regions in the ex-communist east after previous visits to Catholic strongholds in the Rhineland and his native Bavaria. The country’s religious and political complexity presents challenges for the 84-year-old pontiff, who is German but radically out of step with the way his homeland has developed, especially since its reunification in 1990.

Every word he utters during the state visit — especially in his address to parliament in Berlin on Thursday or an Erfurt meeting with Protestant leaders on Friday — will be weighed, analysed, hailed or slammed by his supporters and critics.

Supporters of pope’s German visit blast Bundestag boycott plan

(A protest poster opposing the visit to Germany by Pope Benedict XVI is pictured in the hallway of a building in Berlin's district of Kreuzberg September 21, 2011/Pawel Kopczynski)

Supporters of Pope Benedict’s tour of Germany this week criticised on Wednesday politicians who expressed doubts over his conservative views, his planned speech to parliament and the cost of his visit. With one day to go before his arrival, Berlin police began closing streets and imposing high-level security in parts of the capital where the German-born pontiff will appear at the beginning of his four-day tour.

As a foretaste of protests by gay and lesbian groups that may rally 20,000 people in Berlin, paint bombs were hurled at the Vatican embassy where he will stay in the gritty Neukoelln district and at a nearby Roman Catholic church.