Berlin greets pope with protest, applause

With an appeal for peace and freedom at one of Berlin’s best-known landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate, Pope John Paul II on June 23 concluded a turbulent three-day visit to Germany, his first visit to the country since German unification in 1990. “The Brandenburg Gate has been occupied by two German dictatorships. At this place so redolent of history, I feel moved to direct an urgent appeal for freedom … [and] unity in peace … to all people of good will,” the pope said, as the German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, looked on.

But in addition to applause from the crowd, there were boos and whistles from a group of demonstrators, protesting against official Roman Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. Earlier in the day in Berlin, about 1,000 protesters, some costumed as giant condoms, took part in a spoof mass during which a Hamburg prostitute, identified as “Popess Dominica I,” “beatified” some transvestites. And the pope’s vehicle was the target of eggs and paint bombs as it made its way down the famous boulevard Unter Den Linden, while a naked woman who tried to hurl herself toward the popemobile was restrained by police.

Observers called the pope’s Berlin reception one of the most hostile during his extensive travels. Church traditionalists and reformers alike were shocked by the protests. “No matter what one’s opinion of the pope happens to be, it was an absolutely shameful and tasteless display of opposition,” said Josef Gruenwald, spokesman for Kritische Katholiken Berlin, a reform-minded group of Catholic Berliners. “There was a clear mood of displeasure among Berliners about the papal visit, but this was still not an appropriate way to express it.”

Gruenwald added, however, that he believes the church itself was partly to blame for the protests. “The church was not willing to create an opportunity during the papal visit in which legitimate dissent could be properly aired,” he said. “It’s obvious that people are going to take to the streets if they feel they can’t be heard in any other way.”

One of the main reasons for the pope’s visit to Germany was to beatify – the first step toward the bestowing of sainthood – two Catholic priests, Bernhard Lichtenberg and Karl Leisner, who died after being sent to concentration camps because of their opposition to the Nazi policies of Adolf Hitler.

At a mass at the stadium built under Hitler and used for the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, the pope told between 90,000 and 100,000 worshipers: “Precisely in that place where, 60 years ago, the National Socialist regime wanted to use the celebration of the Olympic Games as a triumph of its inhuman ideology … and where people were incited to hatred and enmity instead of peaceful cooperation, in that place two blessed martyrs triumph today.”

But in his sermon John Paul II omitted a defense – contained in a prepared text passed to journalists – of Pope Pius XII, who as Eugenio Pacelli was papal nuncio in Berlin in the 1930s before becoming pope in 1939. Pius XII has been criticized for not having protested enough over Nazi policies and not acted more decisively to save Jews from the concentration camps.

In a meeting later with Germany’s Jewish leaders, John Paul defended Pius XII, but he also said that “even though historians have shown that there were many priests and lay Catholics who turned against the regime of terror and that numerous forms of resistance arose in the everyday lives of the people, there were nonetheless too few who resisted.” The previous day, at a mass in the western German town of Paderborn, the pope dropped two paragraphs that praised the “resistance offered by the whole church” to Nazism.

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the death of the German reformer Martin Luther, whose break with Rome ushered in the Protestant Reformation. Many Christians hoped that the pope would use his visit to make an historic gesture toward the Protestant churches, but the pope’s words did not go far enough for many. “We all bear the guilt” for the division of the church resulting from the Lutheran Reformation, the pope told an ecumenical service in Paderborn’s Catholic cathedral, attended by leaders of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), whose 24 member churches represent the overwhelming majority of Germany’s Protestants. Leaders of smaller free churches and Orthodox churches were also present.

As well as “the failure of the Catholic Church … and the intrussion of political and economic interests,” Pope John Paid pointed to “Luther’s own passion, which drove him far beyond what he originally intended into radical criticism of the Catholic Church, of its way of living and of its teaching.”

According to reports in Focus, a magazine published in Munich, John Paul II’s plans to take an historic step to improve relations with Protestant churches during his visit were thwarted by the country’s Catholic bishops. Reportedly, the pope originally wanted to visit one of the historic sites of the Lutheran Reformation, Wartburg castle – the place where Luther translated the New Testament into German – where he intended to announce the cancellation of Luther’s excommunication from the Catholic Church.

But the plans were dropped, the magazine said, after opposition by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and by three of Germany’s most senior Catholic bishops – Cardinal Archbishop Sterzinsky of Berlin, Archbishop Joachim Degenhardt of Paderborn, and Bishop Karl Lehmann, president of the German Bishops’ Conference. Luther was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1521 after refusing to retract his teachings which the church judged to be heretical.

The magazine quoted an unnamed adviser to the German bishops as saying of the pope’s plans to lift the excommunication of Luther: “For God’s sake, not in the Protestant stronghold of the Wartburg. Is the pope becoming Protestant?”

While the Protestant churches in Germany have already affirmed that the condemnations issued from the time of the Reformation no longer apply to the present teaching of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul did not respond to a request by Klaus Engelhardt, presiding bishop of the EKD, for the Catholic Church to issue a binding and authoritative statement on the 16th-century condemnations.

During his papal visit John Paul Il did, however, pay tribute to doctrinal discussions between Protestants and Catholics in Germany on the mutual condemnations of the Reformation era, saying that “rifts have been mended which previous generations held to be irreparable.” Protestants and Catholics in Germany have been working on a joint study titled “The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide?”

Regarding the pope’s stand on ecumenical relations, n editorial in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said, “No one even in their wildest dreams could have expected an ecumenical breakthrough from this papal visit. But there has not even been progress. Ecumenism can only remain honest when existing differences are called by their name. But it can only progress when concessions are no longer made only by one side. When will that change?” The newspaper warned of an “increasing gap between the ecumenical cooperation practiced in parishes and groups and the stagnating doctrinal discussions of theologians.”

COPYRIGHT 1996 The Christian Century Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

You May Also Like

Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.

Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. – book reviews Gregory Baum By Miroslav…

Divorce rate no lower among the born-again

Divorce rate no lower among the born-again In one of George Barna’s largest national surveys on marriage and divorce, the pollster has co…

Living by the word: standing on promises

Living by the word: standing on promises Kathleen Norris Sunday, December 11 Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians…

Can churches save the city? A look at resources

Can churches save the city? A look at resources – complicated issues surround urban church work Arthur E. II Farnsley Can churches …