Berlin greets pope with praise and protests

Thu Sep 22, 2011 3:59pm EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germans opposed to Pope Benedict's teachings on sexuality and angry at cases of abuse by priests protested in Berlin on Thursday while members of parliament boycotted a speech by the pontiff at the start of his four-day visit to his homeland.

The pope met Chancellor Angela Merkel, leading politicans and Jewish figures and received warm applause during a speech to parliament in the Reichstag building, a rare honor.

But about 100 deputies in the 620-seat parliament boycotted his speech, which sparked heated debates among ordinary Germans about the separation of church and state.

Some 8,000 people opposed to Benedict's conservative views on sexuality and the scandals of priests molesting youths protested in central Berlin, carrying banners reading "Go home, pope" and "Less religion = more human rights."

The pope even heard criticism from a Jewish leader otherwise deeply appreciative of his desire to improve relations between Christians and Jews. The community leader warned him Jews would be hurt if wartime Pope Pius XII were beatified.

The Bavarian-born pontiff ended the day with a mass for 70,000 who prayed in the rain at the city's Olympic Stadium.

Benedict began the day with an appeal for Germans not to leave the church because of the sexual abuse scandals, which drove a record 181,000 to quit the pews in protest last year.

"The Church is a net of the Lord that pulls in good fish and bad fish," he said, using a gospel image of Jesus as a fisherman. But this failed to soothe protesters kept at a safe distance from his meetings by a high-security police clampdown on central Berlin.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI speaks to young wellwishers on his arrival at Tegel International airport in Berlin September 22, 2011. Pope Benedict starts his most difficult visit yet to his German homeland on Thursday, touring mostly Protestant and atheist regions in the ex-communist east after previous visits to Catholic strongholds in the Rhineland and his native Bavaria. REUTERS/Thomas Peter</p>