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.
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