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Germany

German Dissenter Speaks Out on Pope

As Catholics mourn Pope John Paul II, an anti-establishment former priest in Germany has condemned the funeral preparations as ghoulish and called for the new pope to be less authoritarian.

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Drewermann was barred from the priesthood in 1992

Eugen Drewermann is an outspoken figure who was barred from the priesthood in 1992 after infuriating the Vatican by writing a best-selling book criticizing the Catholic Church.

A long-time critic of John Paul II -- whom he accused of overly rigid leadership -- his views are no less controversial now that the pontiff is lying in state -- a scene he compares to the chaotic funeral of revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini 16 years ago.

"We are seeing ceremonies which are worryingly similar to what we saw with the burial of Ayatollah Khomeini," Drewermann said in an interview with AFP news agency this week. "This is not how we should be preaching Christianity."

A missed opportunity?

Drewermann points to the brief, one-month reign of John Paul I in 1978 as a missed opportunity for the Catholic Church.

"With him we would have had someone who followed the Concilium of the Vatican II," which set out a reformist path for the Church. "In fact (under Pope John Paul II) the opposite happened."

Jugendlicher trauert um den Papst

A young man prays in front of a sculpture portraying Pope John Paul II next to the Basilica della Madonna del Rosario, in Pompei, Italy

One of the striking images of the mourning for the late pontiff has been the reaction of young people to a man they apparently held in great affection, but Drewermann, 64, attaches little importance to this.

"He was like a replacement father figure for them, someone who banned any sexual experience outside of marriage," Drewermann said. "They didn't really listen to what he said."

Failing to counter AIDS?

He is especially outraged by the late pope's refusal to back the use of condoms which he says helped AIDS to ravage Africa.

SOS Kinderdorf in Gambia

Many African children have lost their parents to AIDS

"He said condoms were forbidden and yet 25 million people in Africa are facing AIDS," Drewermann said. "At the world population conference in Cairo (in 1994) the Vatican blocked a sensible and effective birth control program, siding with the ayatollahs and the American fundamentalists."

Under Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church turned its back on the possibility of a "spiritual opening," Drewermann said. This, he said, prevented serious reflection on how to read and interpret the Bible or, for example, how to interpret the symbols of the New Testament such as the immaculate conception.

A climate of psychological fear?

Drewermann also alleged that the Catholic Church under the leadership of the late pontiff tacitly encouraged a climate of psychological fear among its followers -- a popular theme of his books which have been translated into many languages.

Exorzistenausbildung in der päpstliche Hochschule Regina Apostolorum

Italian exorcist father Gabriele Nanni gives a lesson on Satanism for clergy at Rome's Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Academy, in February

"There were more than 30,000 exorcisms during his reign," which shows "that there is a widespread belief that Satan is within people's souls," he said.

High hopes for the next pope

The theologian also berated Pope John Paul II for failing to take a more liberal stance on divorce and re-marriage and said that he "quite simply banned any discussion about the emancipation of women."

But Drewermann, who now lives a reclusive life in the western German city of Paderborn, without a phone, fax or computer, praises Pope John Paul II's efforts to reach out to Third World countries, his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq and his rejection of "the anti-social and harmful character of capitalism."

Erleuchtete Fenster an Privatgemächern des Papstes

Drewermann has high hopes for the next occupant of the papal apartment

He said he fervently hopes that the next pope will seize the chance to throw open to discussion "issues that have been taboo for centuries" and allow Catholics to debate freely with other Christians.

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