Pope Benedict XVI warned German lawmakers that Europe risked descending into a “state of culturelessness” that invites extremism, using the rise of the Nazis to highlight the kind of breakdown that must be resisted.
In the first address by a pope to the German parliament, Benedict equated the Nazis to a “band of robbers,” saying that “we Germans know from our own experience” what happens when secular culture becomes disconnected from a higher order.
“We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the state became an instrument for destroying right -- a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss,” the pontiff told the lower house, the Bundestag, in Berlin today.
Benedict, 84, is in Germany at the start of a four-day visit to his homeland, which includes talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Christian Wulff and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He celebrated Mass with a crowd of about 70,000 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium this evening, before traveling on tomorrow to the cities of Erfurt and then Freiburg.
Merkel said that she and the pope discussed the need for policy makers to assert their authority over financial markets for the public good.
“We spoke about the financial markets and the fact that politicians should have the power to make policy for the people and not be driven by the markets,” Merkel told reporters after their meeting. They also talked about Europe, a topic of “great interest” for the pope, and European unification, which she said is “indispensable” for Germans.
In his speech, Benedict told lawmakers that justice must be paramount if the state is to act for the good of the people, and warned that Europe risks being dominated by “positivist reason” at the expense of religion.
The result, he said, is that “Europe vis-à-vis other world cultures is left in a state of culturelessness and at the same time extremist and radical movements emerge to fill the vacuum.”
Taking care not to endorse any political party, the pope praised the ecological movement that sprang up in Germany in the 1970s, prompting spontaneous applause from Green Party members in the chamber.
It “was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside,” he said.
The pope’s speech was boycotted by some lawmakers from the opposition Greens, Social Democrats and the Left Party. Christian Stroebele of the Greens said in an interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur that the head of the Catholic Church was being honored in a manner denied to other religious leaders.
Gay and lesbian groups are among demonstrators who wended their way through the streets of Berlin today in protest at the church’s teachings on homosexuality, contraception and marriage.
The protests contrast with the welcome Benedict received from hundreds of thousands of worshippers six years ago when he sailed down the River Rhine to Cologne on his first visit to Germany as pope.
Not everyone agrees with Catholic teaching on lifestyle issues and “in a free society this dissent must be allowed to express itself,” Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said in Berlin yesterday. Yet some of the protests are “excessive.”
The first German pope since the 16th century was greeted by a front-page image adorning the headquarters of Axel Springer AG’s mass circulation Bild Zeitung published on April 20, 2005, the day after he was elected pontiff, saying: “We are Pope!”
The Catholic Church in Germany has encountered a wave of allegations of sexual abuse by priests that emerged last year, beginning at an elite Jesuit high school in Berlin. Archbishop Zollitsch apologized to more than 100 pedophilia victims in February 2010 after Benedict called abuse a “heinous crime.”
The pope will seek a dialogue with other faiths during his visit. He is scheduled to meet a group of Muslims in Berlin tomorrow before heading to Erfurt, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation. There he’ll meet with representatives of Germany’s protestant denominations in the Augustinian cloister, where Martin Luther began his monastic studies in 1505.
Benedict’s trip to Germany in September 2006 was overshadowed by a lecture at the University of Regensburg in which he appeared to equate Islam with violence while reading a dialogue from a 14th-century text.