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.”