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Germany

German parliament at odds over papal address

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to speak in parliament when he visits Germany in September 2011. This has caused a great stir among politicians.

Pope Benedict XVI

Not everyone thinks it's such a good idea for the pope to speak in parliament

Pope Benedict XVI is not scheduled to talk in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, until September 2011, but his visit has already stirred up a hot debate between the opposition Greens and Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The Greens oppose the papal speech in parliament and Hans-Christian Stroebele, a Green party grandee, said he would not listen to the pope's speech. Stroebele has protested against speeches in the past, when he left parliament to ignore speeches by George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin.

Other Greens said they will attend the speech, but echoed the criticism.

Hans-Christian Stroebele

Stroebele said he would leave the Bundestag during the papal speech

"The German Bundestag is supposed to be neutral when it comes to state visitors," Volker Beck, head of the Greens' parliamentary group said. As the pope is first and foremost the leader of a religious group, it would raise the question which representatives from other religious groups could be invited next, he added.

The Greens lay great importance on the equal treatment of different religions and fear this to be compromised by the pope’s visit. The CDU dismissed the concerns and went on the offensive.

Greens are against everything

"The Greens are simply against everything and everyone," CDU Secretary General Hermann Groehe said. "You can only hope that this 'party against everything' reflects a bit over Christmas. It would be an honor to have the pope speak in parliament. "

Cem Oezdemir, leader of the Greens, rebuffed the sharp attacks. "The pope should speak in parliament if he wishes to do so," he said. Oezdemir added he believed in an open dialogue.

The Greens' concerns were backed by Social Democrat Rolf Schwanitz who is also a member of a group within his party that campaigns for laicism. He said he had reservations about the papal speech.

Wolfgang Thierse, the Social Democrat vice president of the German parliament, called the Greens narrow-minded. The head of the Protestant Church, Nikolaus Schneider, said the Pope's invitation to speak in the Bundestag was "understandable, because the pope is also a head of state."

Christian Stroebele added another twist to the debate in an interview with the Saturday editions of the WAZ group newspapers in Germany. He said he might consider staying in parliament and listening to the Pope's speech if he were allowed to ask a question. Yet Stroebele, who describes himself as a Catholic, maintained the pope had failed to modernize the Church.

"The holy father still promotes exorcism. For me that shows a medieval institution," he said.

Author: Sarah Steffen (epd, dpa, AFP, KNA)
Editor: Rob Turner

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