Pope′s visit was aimed at conscience of German Catholics | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 26.09.2011

Visit the new DW website

Take a look at the beta version of dw.com. We're not done yet! Your opinion can help us make it better.

  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


Pope's visit was aimed at conscience of German Catholics

At the close of his visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI rejected all calls for reform of the Catholic Church and instead demanded more loyalty from his followers. DW's Bernd Riegert takes a look at the papal visit.

The pope says the German Church will overcome its challenges

The pope says the German Church will overcome its challenges

During his visit to Germany, the Holy Father was strict with his followers, more and more of whom are leaving the Church - a point the pope even addressed during his four days in his native country.

The pope said during his concluding mass in front of over 100,000 spectators in Freiburg that Catholics in Germany must show more loyalty and faith towards their leader.

"The Church in Germany will remain a blessing for all Catholics worldwide - as long as it remains loyal to the predecessors of Saint Peter and the Apostles."

In a keynote address in front of invited guests at the Freiburg concert hall, Benedict - in a moment of self-criticism - admitted that the Church had fallen too deeply under worldly influence, that it was too dependent on organizations and customs it had come to cherish.

Papstbesuch in Deutschland 2011 Freiburg Eucharistiefeier

100,000 people came to the mass in Freiburg on Sunday

This must change: "We must rid ourselves of these worldly elements. We aren't from this world," the pope said. This doesn't mean that the Church must retract itself from the world, however; on the contrary, Catholics must reinforce their duty of love to all human beings in the world. This "Caritas" must not be something just handed over to other organizations.

The recent "scandals," i.e. the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Church's very foundation, must also not be allowed to cover up the essence of the more fundamental Christian message.


Benedict further scolded the organizations of Catholics in Germany insofar as he rejected calls for structural reforms within the German Catholic Church. The pope reprimanded his German followers that their duty was more about solving the deeper "crisis of belief" than repairing any structural inadequacies.

Papst Benedikt Bundestag

The pope's speech to the German parliament was a much debated event

In Germany, renowned for its high standard of living and prosperity, the Holy Father said an emotional coldness and lack of commitment were eating away at society. Benedict delivered his bitter message in a direct discussion with the central committee of the German Catholic Church, away from the cameras that had been following his every move during the many public appearances.

The pope's rebuke wasn't limited to the organizations in the country, however. He also demanded that bishops make a greater effort to fight against relativity and individualization in German society.

These calls are nothing new - they have pervaded the whole of Benedict's time in office. Variations on this topic could be heard during the pope's speech at the Freiburg airport just before getting on the plane to return to Rome. Benedict used his Sunday airport Mass to called on the German Catholic Church to return to its principle and take on the roll of role model for other, younger churches around the world.

No final solutions

The chairman of the German Bishop's Conference, the Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, said Benedict's visit was a "great gift for us." All Catholics, all Christians could feel encouraged by the 84-year-old's presence.

Papst Benedikt XVI. Deutschland 2011 Olympiastadion Papamobil

The pope celebrated Mass in Berlin's Olympic stadium

Zollitsch said that Benedict came to Germany not to propose any "ultimate solutions" to the problems facing the Catholic Church, which he said had been "posed by us ourselves." Zollitsch added that all spectators that came to see the pope during his visit showed a warmth and friendliness. Those guests were personally selected for the pope's speech; the others, those who were protesting against the Holy See's policies, Benedict wasn't able to see.

Already at the beginning of his visit, the pope had addressed a number of topics in an intellectual address to the lower house of parliament in Berlin. Benedict called on all Bundestag members to make decision with the awareness that there is a higher power. Reason and belief belong together, Benedict reminded. There he was, once again, the strict Father, who always seems to remind us of the same things.

No ecumenical impulse

The pope stayed true to himself during his visit also in another central issue: the calls by Germany's Protestant Church for convergence between the two.

Papstbesuch in Deutschland 2011 Berlin

The pope did not see the demonstrations against his visit

Benedict was unclear as to how this ecumenical convergence would take place: "True belief is not a topic for negotiation," were the words used by the Holy Father. This was a clear disappointment not only for many Protestants in Germany, but also the country's Catholics as well.

The pope didn't forget to praise the efforts of Martin Luther, who Benedict said was a man of faith who persevered in his search for the true path to God. With that being said, the Holy Father distanced himself from calls to reinstate Luther as a Catholic munch, after the reformist lost his status in 1517.

The spokesman for the Catholic Church, Federico Lombardi, said that the Catholic Church was still unclear as to whether it would take part in the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Zollitsch said that Benedict had encouraged him to "find a way" in resolving this issue.

'Insufficient support' for abuse victims

In total, around 320,000 faithful Catholics took part in the five Masses given by the pope that carried the message of perseverance in the face of crisis. Benedict's visit carried a fitting motto: "Where God is, there is the future."

Papst Papstbesuch 2011 Freiburg

Pope Benedict XVI at the concert hall in Freiburg

The pope raised the example of Christian preachers who stayed faithful to their belief during the former German Democratic Republic. In particular, Benedict praised the cohesion of Catholics in the former East German Eichsfeld, where the faith has been preserved over centuries.

The protests put on by gays, lesbians and the victims of sexual abuse were shielded from the Benedict's eyes. He will have known, however, that these demonstrations took place.

For the head of Germany's network for sexual abuse victims, Wilfried Fesselman, the pope's meeting with five victims is not sufficient. "The pope does nothing about this," Fesselman said, adding that "German Church officials are more interested in covering up the affair."

No sensations

On the fringe of a conversation with the Orthodox Church, Pope Benedict made it clear to all critics that he would continue to stand for the marriage between man and woman - in other words that he would continue to reject homosexual marriage.

Strict and clear-cut. Nothing else could have been expected from this trip, according to the experienced Vatican observers who accompanied Benedict on his trip. In the end, the pope himself announced before his trip that there wouldn't be any "sensations" while he was there. He was right.

Author: Bernd Riegert (glb)
Editor: Rina Goldenberg

DW recommends

Audios and videos on the topic