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Germany

Germans Hope for Progressive Next Pope

As people in Germany keep mourning John Paul II’s death, some politicians and church leaders have started thinking about what the next pontificate should be like. Many expect the successor to be more open to reform.

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Many Germans want the next pope to reach out to Protestants

While the huge merits of the late pope are not being questioned by anyone here, people do remember the sometimes rather strained relationship between the Polish-born Holy Father and Germany.

In a country where Christians are split equally into Catholics and Protestants it’s not really surprising that many are highly critical of the late pope’s lack of concrete support for ecumenicalism.

Fortifying border lines

Trauergottesdienst in Berlin für die Opfer der Flut in Asien

Wolfgang Huber (right) with Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the head of the German Catholic Bishop's Conference, during an ecumenical memorial service for tsunami victims in January

The head of the Protestant Church Council in Germany, Wolfgang Huber, said much more could have been done over the past 26 years to bring the two confessions closer together.

"The pope pursued a policy of fortifying border lines between the Christian denominations rather than showing a way of bringing Catholics and Protestants closer together," he said. He had a very clear stance on this, and we simply had to accept it."

Huber recalled that the pope refused on theological grounds to allow Catholic priests and Protestant pastors to celebrate communion, or Eucharist, jointly.

"The pope's stance was not really conducive to harmony between Christian churches in Germany, Europe and the United States," he said. "In Germany this was felt to be a particular problem, considering the huge number of cross-confessional marriages. For the people who are affected, there has always been a great desire to celebrate communion together -- something that we Protestants have welcomed all along, but was rejected by the pope."

Germans struggle with pope

Relations between the Vatican and German Catholic leaders have not been free of friction either. In 2001, John Paul II sent a letter to the German Catholic church criticizing incidents in the liturgy, sermons and the conduct of the parishes here.

It reflected the German Catholics’ permanent struggle between displaying loyalty to the pope and the desire to adapt their religion to modern times.

Bundestagspräsident Wolfgang Thierse Interview mit Ibrahim Mohamad arabische Redaktion DW-Online Foto: Olof Pock

Wolfgang Thierse (right) during an earlier interview with DW-WORLD's Ibrahim Mohamad

"It’ll be hard for any successor to match John Paul II’s charisma and influence," said Wolfgang Thierse, a Social Democrat, Catholic and the speaker of Germany's parliament. "But he certainly would not have to be exactly like him. I am hoping for a pope who’s more open towards reform. And one who grants women more rights within the Catholic Church and responds more flexibly to a fast-changing social environment in the age of globalization."

Hoping for a progressive successor

Priesterin der Anglikanischen Kirche

Protestant churches allow women to become priests

Thierse's view is shared by Greens politician Christa Nickels, who is also a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics. She argued that the common practice of allowing only men become priests is no longer acceptable. Nickels also said she hopes for a more progressive stance in the Catholic Church on sexuality and contraception.

Nickels said that family planning through contraception can’t be likened to the destruction of life and adds that speaking out against the use of condoms means ignoring the threat of the HIV epidemic.

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