German pope becomes an embarrassment in homeland

Tue Feb 3, 2009 3:26pm EST
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By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - Nearly four years after a rare outburst of national pride over the election of a German pope, Germans are falling out of love with Pope Benedict because of his rehabilitation of a bishop who denies the Holocaust.

Prominent Catholics, politicians and newspaper commentators in Joseph Ratzinger's homeland are pulling no punches in their criticism of his lifting of the excommunications of four bishops, including one who denies the extent of the Holocaust.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also criticized him, prompting a sharp response from the Vatican.

"Worldwide criticism of the Pope," read the front page of top-selling daily Bild. It was a contrast to the jubilant "We are the pope!" headline in April 2005 to celebrate his election.

"The pope has made a serious mistake. That he is a German pope makes the matter especially bad," read its editorial.

"Pope Benedict XVI is inflicting great damage on Germany ... The pope must correct his mistake, reverse his decision and excuse himself," it said, in comments echoed by other papers.

Former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher wrote in the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung: "Poles can be proud of Pope John Paul II. At the last papal election, we said "We are the pope!" But please -- not like this."

More than 60 years after the end of World War Two, Germans are still struggling to come to terms with the legacy of the Holocaust, in which Nazis killed 6 million European Jews, and relations with the Jewish community are highly charged.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he leads a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>