The World From Berlin: 'The Pope Can't Neglect What's Happening in His Own Church'

The pope's highly anticipated speech in Germany's parliament Thursday was met with a standing ovation by politicians, who he warned not to abandon their principles for power. In Friday's newspapers, though, German commentators take the pope to task for not addressing contemporary problems within the Catholic Church in his speech.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives for his speech in Germany's parliament Thursday. Zoom
AP

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives for his speech in Germany's parliament Thursday.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed Germany's parliament on Thursday, the first day of his first state visit to his home country. As protesters -- including some parliamentarians -- voiced their disapproval of the Catholic Church outside, the pope delivered a philosophical speech that was received with a standing ovation.

During the 20-minute address, Benedict alluded to Nazi crimes and warned politicians against compromising their ethics for power. The pope also encouraged his countrymen not to overlook the positive influences of religion.

Likewise, Benedict compared the "positivist reason" that defines modern living to a "windowless concrete bunker" that limits human experience. "And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God's raw materials, which we refashion into our own products," he said. "The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this."

In a surprise expression of support for the environmentalist Greens, Benedict said that the "environmental movement in German politics since the 1970s" has been a positive step in this direction.

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Still, the speech delivered on the first day of the pontiff's four-day visit to Germany did not acknowledge rampant criticism of the Vatican. In particular, protesters focused on the Catholic Church's positions on homosexuality, contraception, the role of women within the Church and the handling of the massive sexual-abuse scandal that stunned the country last year.

In Friday's newspapers, German commentators analyze Benedict's speech, with many writing that he should apply his own suggestions within the Church he leads.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The German Bundestag, the location of the parliament and the place where laws are made, was an appropriate place to talk about dignity and rights and their origin. Of course, someone who holds the ultimate responsibility for Roman Catholics is not just a normal head of state, someone who has already made speeches to the Bundestag and who will address it again in the future. The appearance of a native German as a representative of a foreign state, who addresses his compatriots in his mother tongue and calls on them to have a 'listening heart,' is an historic event, to say the least. No secular guest could call on politicians to 'strive for justice' and 'establish the fundamental preconditions for peace,' without sounding overbearing."

"In light of these messages, it is amazing how many people objected to the pope's appearance in the Bundestag in the run-up to his speech. But in the country of religious and political Protestantism and highly developed individualism, that shouldn't actually be a surprise. Among those who refused to listen to the pope are many people who simply want to offload their own sense of insecurity onto the pope and his church, so as not to admit their helplessness in the face of the world. If it helps them to do so, then the pope will surely have understanding for their protests."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The pope's speech was an attempt to return fundamental and human rights to Christendom -- an attempt at reconciliation with the Enlightenment."

"His references to the 'equality of all people before the law' and the 'constitutional state' were worth noting … But what's spectacular is what must arise from the pope's commitment -- the application of these rights within the Church! This question remained open in the speech, but it cannot stay that way. It involves the position of women and laypeople in the Church; it involves the hierarchy. If Benedict acknowledges fundamental and human rights, he can't neglect what's happening in his own Church."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The old man babbled over the difference between legal positivism and natural law. The main message was: The human is not made by humans, but by God, and that those who don't recognize this can't tell the difference between good and evil."

"At some point in the philosophical monologue, the pope declared that Europe must not be reduced to material values that degrade Christian culture to a 'subculture.' That he values neither this nor a multi-religious Europe is no surprise."

"The pope draws huge crowds. But, as his ambitionless speech before the Bundestag once again showed, he does so because he enshrouds them in a world in which authorities can issue harmless warnings. Like an Advent wreath, it's outdated kitsch. But it's not against the law.

"But why did Ratzinger pass up on the chance to seriously address the people in words they can understand? Because, for him, the event is enough in itself. Because, for him, it's not about clerical convictions; it's about making appearances in prominent locations. The protesters have a right to declare that they have a problem with this kind of spectacularization of their democracy."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The Bundestag could have become a trap for Benedict XVI. If he had delivered a strict Catholic theological diatribe against the zeitgeist -- against gay marriage, divorce, the ordination of women, the pill, condoms and sexually transmitted diseases -- he would have thoroughly met the expectations of the anachronistic protest campaign, which sees -- particularly in this pope -- a sense of darkness, a denial of enlightenment and modernity. His enemies would have been extremely satisfied. Conversely, had he given a speech that was ostensibly about current and mundane matters, he would likewise have fallen back on his sovereignty as the Pontifex Maximus."

"In both cases, he would have bowed to outside expectations; in both cases, he would have been remotely controlled. He confidently avoided both .... He did justice to the Bundestag, the place in which the entire German population is represented. He talked about the basic principles of politics in a free society. And, right in the middle, he quoted the Augustine, the third-century Church father, asking: 'Without justice, what else is the state but a great band of robbers?'"

"The point of Benedict's speech was that he wasn't advocating a Catholic-Christian overarching or foundational theory of the just state. Since the second century, Christian theologians have always embodied the culture of Europe that 'arose out of the encounter between the monotheism of the Jews, the philosophical reasoning of the Greeks and the laws of the Romans.' The pope has advocated a faith that can also let the world be the world. And he unassumingly pointed out that the idea of the equality of all human beings, the inviolability of human dignity and human responsibility for their actions has been developed out of the idea of a Creator. Not completely without cunning, the Pope has given notice to the members of the Bundestag of their responsibility to freedom."

The left-wing daily Berliner Zeitung writes:

"This speech deflated the ready-to-burst balloon of outrage that had built up before Benedict's appearance -- with finely wrought arguments and clear commitments to the principles of a free society and the division between church and state."

"Benedict also served up a rhetorical show-stopper: According to him, the environmental movement -- and, thus, the Greens -- are the chief witness of the failures produced by a purely positivist approach to the world."

"(His statements) should be remembered as an offer from a Catholic intellectual to the secular world to engage in a dialogue. The answer -- not arrogant, but consistent -- should be to remind Benedict about implementing both human and civil rights within his Church, as well."

-- Kristen Allen

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