Pope Benedict, in Berlin: Some Difficulties With Protocol

When heads of state or other diplomatic or political personages meet in public, great attention is paid to attention to details of protocol, and efforts to avoid little embarrassments or indelicacies to the parties involved. Sometimes however, these little details cannot be simply swept away, but must simply be brazened out. Pope Benedict will experience this in abundance when he visits Berlin next week.

For months, I have been aware that one of his hosts on this will be the openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit.

A fascinating article at Der Spiegel elaborates on several similar little difficulties. In addition to mayor Wowereit, the catalogue of Catholic dignitaries in open conflict with one or other element of Vatican orthodoxy is lengthy: I’m left wondering if any of them are fully respectable, from the perspective of the CDF.

  • German President Christian Wulff,  a practicing Catholic, is also divorced and remarried.
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel  is not Catholic, but is likewise  divorced and remarried.
  • Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, another Protestant, is gay.
  • Bundestag President Norbert Lammert is a Catholic in apparently good standing – but wrote to Germany’s bishops about the marriage ban for priests. Those who staunchly cling to celibacy, Lammert writes, “are leading the Church with open eyes into a pastoral emergency.”
  • Horst Seehofer,  the leader of the conservative Christian Social Union, is not only divorced and remarried – he has also fathered an illegitimate child.
  • Gerda Hasselfeldt, the Catholic chairwoman of the CSU group in the Bundestag, is  also divorced and has remarried.
  • Oskar Lafontaine, the former co-chairman of the Left Party and a former Jesuit school pupil –  divorced and has remarried.

Many of the people that Benedict will encounter during his visit are divorced, gay, in common-law marriages or uninterested in the Church’s ban on birth control. And even though they are Catholic, they do not see themselves as sinners. The pope, who rules the papal state as one of the last absolute monarchs on earth, will encounter a modern society with modern representatives.

Now, here’s the thing: orthodoxy dictates that Catholics who have been divorced and remarried are automatically disbarred from receiving communion. Will Pope Benedict turn away any of these prominent public figures who present themselves for communion at the Papal Mass? I don’t think so.

Then there are others who will present difficulties not by their presence, but by their absence. About 100 members of the Bundestag will boycott the official welcome.

  • “A head of state who disregards labor rights, women’s rights and the right to sexual self-determination should not be allowed to address the Bundestag,” says SPD parliamentarian Burchardt.
  • Toni Hofreiter (Green Party)  finds it “questionable to invite the pope to the parliament by using the trick of defining him as a head of state”
  • Alexander Süssmair of the far-left Left Party “cannot even imagine what the democratic Federal Republic of Germany could learn from the representative of an absolute monarchy.”

In reaction to the boycott, former Bundestag members have been invited to attend so that the empty seats will be filled.

The Pope’s Difficult Visit to His Homeland

When Joseph Ratzinger became pope in 2005, Catholics in Germany joyfully celebrated the first German pope in almost 500 years. Since then, the euphoria has turned to disappointment and disillusionment. Benedict XVI’s visit to Germany this week will do little to heal the deep divide between conservatives and reformers in the German Church. By SPIEGEL Staff.

One thing is already clear: The two men will be all smiles when they meet.

If all goes according to plan, German President Christian Wulff will greet the pope at 11:15 a.m. this Thursday in front of Bellevue Palace, the president’s official residence in Berlin. Photographers and cameramen will be eagerly jostling for the best spots, security teams will be intently scanning the area, and Wulff will shake his guest’s hand with the proper degree of decorum.

But what will happen next? What will the German head of state and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church talk about when they meet for the first time, shortly after Benedict XVI’s landing in Berlin? Will they talk about the fact that Wulff, a practicing Catholic, divorced and remarried, a fact that, under the current rules of the Church, excludes him from receiving Communion?

-read the full report at Der Spiegel






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2 comments for “Pope Benedict, in Berlin: Some Difficulties With Protocol

  1. Promotor Fidei
    September 21, 2011 at 6:48 am

    I apologize for this but I cannot stand hubris and irreverence toward anyone, regardless of their religion or political stance:

    -Burchardt must be a closet Facist, as no one who believes in freedom of thought and speech would advocate baring someone from speaking in a public assembly. Giving a speech does not mean anyone is required to genuinely consider what they have to say; we see that everyday in both secular politics and church governance. Deniying someone the right to speak because you disagree with their views is reminiscent of Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini. He is more close minded than the Pope himself.
    -Hofreiter clearly thinks he is has the authority to judge international treaty and law. He also seems to be fond of the same deceitful and subversive tactics that Lenin was fond of.
    -Sussmair’s statement reeks of the hubris that lead to WWI and WW2. The idea that a democracy is good and wise in and of itself died with WW2. People thought that WWI would be the last war because after it all major countries in Europe had democratic styles of government and “democracies use reason and can do no wrong”. Well, soon after, the worst conflict in human history was conducted by governments that were ALL legitimized by democratic processes. Modernity and democracy had failed to prevent not only war, but the worst atrocities in human history. 20 years ago Europeans understood better than anyone else that democracy is just as imperfect as authoritarian systems. People used democracy to legitimize slavery, people used democracy to install hitler, people used democracy to justify just as many wrongs as kings and emperors. The idea that you have nothing to learn from someone because you are “modern and democratic” is so absurd that I am at a loss for words. He clearly has forgotten all of the lessons that his country learned the hard way. He is also more close minded than the Pope himself.

       As a historian, a scholar of the legacy of classical freedom, a scholar of constitutional studies, and a student of European Historical and Cultural studies, I am beyond disgusted with these statements and the fact that they are coming from Europeans, especially GERMANS of all people, has seriously darkened my hopes that the german-catholic tensions will result in anything positive. I hope that this is not indicative of wider german sentiments; if it is, then germany has officially taken a step backwards. Reading these statements made me feel like I was reading from my 1920’s german politics text book, not commentary from a 21st century dignitary visit.
          Just a few days ago in my European Identity course we discussed the concept of repentance in Europe over past actions, and one student who had just returned from Germany stated that he felt that Germans had seemed to have forgotten the holocaust and the lessons they learned. I lead the majority in voicing strong opposition to his statement, knowing that germany has had great guilt and has been extremely repentant; my French-German professor (french citizen, german decent) heavily supported me. However, after this I wonder if that student may not have been as wrong as I though…..these specific germans clearly have forgotten the wisdom their country gained through their past actions and hardships. I will defiantly be bringing this up with my professor on thursday.

    Now that that rant is over, I have a more catholic oriented comment: Any Catholic who would force the Pope into that position in front of a live audience has no empathy, no charity, and no concern for the church or its believers, and cannot be a heartfelt catholic. It is a lose/lose situation for the Pope and the church. They would be turning the sacrifice of the mass into a personal political statement, and causing great embarrassment and  to the church at a time when it is already faltering. THe mass places everyone aside to worship christ, it is not a forum for self-rightous displays of ego and personal opinion. I dont mean to sound dogmatic, but anyone who advocates such political displays in such a sacred setting CANNOT truly believe in the sacred nature of the eucharistic celebration as anything more than a commemorative meal. They would be protestants at heart, as that this the single largest divide. Catholics have chosen to die torturous deaths to defend the eucharist from being fed to animals (ex: 16th century sacking of Rome), so any “catholic” who would readily disrespect the eucharist by turning it into a political spectacle is no more catholic than Oliver Cromwell. I think remarriage should be allowed, but anyone who divorces, remarries, and has  no problem with leaving the issue unresolved with the church CANNOT BY DEFINITION take their catholicism seriously. He is a catholic only in name. The climate of political correctness has grown to the point of smothering reality, I am not afraid to call a spade a spade. I do not judge him in the least for his actions, I can hardly be called a catholic in good standing myself, but I can and do judge him for not taking the church seriously yet expecting to be treated as if there is no issue. I hope he has the decency to skip communion or mass all together, just as i would. 

    I have been following this site for close to a year now. I came across it when I was considering committing suicide, because I could not reconcile my faith with my….nature. It has been very helpful in many ways. However, I think that it is time to address some serious topics.

    1. Where is the line between progressive reformers and just plain un-catholic? The only people willing to discuss this seemed to be demonized as being un-inclusive and judgmental, which is counter productive to reform.Yes, great reforms need to be made, however many ‘catholic’ reformers propose changes that would effectively abolish catholicism without even realizing the implications of their proposal. It is important to know what we can and cannot change so that we do not waste our time and resources trying to make things work that are not possible without removing the very aspects that make it Catholic. That way we can know if we should stay to change the church or if we would be better suited with another religion.A study of Church History would a good starting place. Just as a minor example: many reforming groups advocate democratic elections of bishops and priests without having a clue that democratic clerical elections by laymen is not a new proposal, it was tried to disastrous effect during the early 1790’s.

    2. This is more controversial, but i do not fear negative responses because this issue is even more important. When can we put aside political correctness and tell people that do not take their religion seriously to get out of the way? That may sound harsh, but they are a serious hinderance to true reform with their unrealistic proposals and their sheer ignorance of church history and theology. “I’m catholic on sunday” people should be discouraged from involvement by anyone who is serious about major church reform, do you want someone who learned about international relations from wikipedia giving input for your country’s foreign policy decisions?. There are catholics who feel their religion and take it seriously, and those who are catholic in name out of convenience or habit. You can tell the difference by their attitude toward the method of reform. If someone just says “i dont agree with the teaching on (fill in the blank)” and just ignores it without trying to resolve the disparity with consistency, theology, prayer, perseverance, and reasoned debate then they clearly do not understand their religion and so cannot take it seriously. They are copping out and just cherry picking. That is the domain of protestantism (create your own personal religion based around the individual). Anyone who takes their Catholicism seriously will engage the topic directly and will not be satisfied until every question, objection, and loose end is logically and satisfactorily dealt with. That is the Catholic tradition. If someone does not like it, then they do not like real catholicism. I myself do not hold orthodox believes, yet I will not support any reformer (even if I want their proposal to be implemented) who is willing to discard the very things that make the church “Catholic”. I am very fond of this site because it seems to understand the necessity of resolution rather than just ignoring the white elephant in the room. 

    I will work on these things and send them you (Terence) for discussion, though it will take some time as my studies are very time intensive. 

    Just as an aside, I know that my comments can sometimes seem sharp and against reform, however that is not what i am advocating. I chose my name carefully. Promotor Fidei (Promotor of the Faith) was the official title for the Advocatus Diaboli (Devil’s Advocate), who was the cleric in charge of antagonizing suggestions,opinions testimonies, and proofs for the cause of canonization. They often had to argue against what they personally believed in order to find holes in an argument so that it could be discard if it was weak. Surviving the cross examination of the Promotor Fidei made an argument stronger and was a testament its validity. I have a strong devil’s advocate streak in my natural personality, I argue against EVERYTHING, even my own beliefs. This is something that I think is missing in the church reform debates and in society in general today.

  2. September 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Good points raised. Will be watching your blog from now on. Also, good points raised by Promotor Fidei. How far do you let things go, before your religion/faith/church/institution is changed beyond recognition? I’d also add, how many interpretations of scripture do we need?

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