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Europe

German Press Review: Grading the Pope

German editorialists on Thursday opine about a deadly attack on an American convoy in the Gaza strip and John Paul II’s 25th anniversary as Pope.

The Hamburg-based Financial Times Deutschland pointed out that this is the first time Americans have been the victims of Palestinian terror attacks, which until now have concentrated on Israeli targets. "The militants have opened up a new front with this latest attack," the paper wrote, "but without United States support, a peace process leading to an independent Palestinian state is unthinkable." The only way the FT sees the Palestinian government regaining some credibility in Washington is to find those responsible for the attack, and to start seriously disarming and dismantling terrorist groups.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung in Essen agreed that the Palestinians need the Americans, which makes an attack on diplomats involved in the peace process particularly outrageous. But it comments that "Americans are far from popular among Palestinians, and Washington’s veto earlier this week of yet another U.N. resolution condemning Israel only fuelled their anger and disappointment."

The editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung opined that "while terrorism in the Middle East certainly can’t be explained by America’s one-sided policy there," Washington’s clear bias towards Israel helps confirm the general opinion in the region that Israel is therefore free to do what it likes. The paper warned that the only way to stop the Palestinian militant groups from seizing power is for Washington finally to take decisive action as a real "honest broker" and rectify this glaring imbalance.

25 years at the helm

German editorial writers on Thursday resisted the temptation to eulogize the pope on his 25th anniversary as leader of the Catholic Church. Most contrasted his efforts to promote world peace with his conservatism on matters of Catholic doctrine.

One of the most positive assessments of the papacy came from the Schwäbische Zeitung, based in predominantly Roman Catholic southern Germany. The paper noted that while John Paul II is not the first pope to write world history, "he didn’t do it in blood but through the power of words, and with the persuasive power of the fundamental values of his religion – freedom, brotherly love and peace."

The editors of the Mannheimer Morgen concurred that, although the so-called "Pope of Peace" hasn’t actually managed to prevent a single war, he has persistently deployed what the paper described as his "modest" powers in the attempt -- particularly in Eastern Europe and with regard to Iraq. The paper commented that the next pope will have a lot to live up to -- and that he’ll also have to push through reforms that John Paul II has refused to countenance.

In eastern Germany, the Leipziger Volkszeitung opined that "many of the faithful who are currently praying for the Pope’s failing health are frustrated and disappointed by the Vatican’s refusal to budge on many issues, from sexual morality to ecumenical communion."

But the sharpest criticism came from the Wetzlarer Neue Zeitung in Hesse. The Pope, the paper wrote, "is a good listener, and he’s able to empathize with people in need, but it would be wrong to interpret this as a fundamentally tolerant attitude." For, during the past 25 years, the Pope has delivered no improvement in the status of women in the official Catholic world view. The editorial cited as one example the decision by the Catholic Church to withdraw from participation in German advisory centers for women considering an abortion. The paper asked how this man of God could "travel throughout the world and condemn the use of condoms as birth control, against the background of the rapid spread of AIDS and the Third World population explosion."

The Stuttgarter Zeitung commented that despite the superficially positive perception of Pope John Paul II, his concepts of morality and theology have been ineffective. According to the paper, his papacy has only strengthened the conviction of those who believe religion is a thing of the past. "For the Pope," it wrote, "this is a tragic misunderstanding. The last thing he wanted was to become the personified conscience of the world, while the core articles of his faith go unnoticed."