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Pope warns Germans about evils of power

Tries to stem tide of people fleeing Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI waved next to Germany’s president, Christian Wulff, at the lower house of Parliament in the Reichstag. Pope Benedict XVI waved next to Germany’s president, Christian Wulff, at the lower house of Parliament in the Reichstag. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
By Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press / September 23, 2011

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BERLIN - Pope Benedict XVI addressed Germany’s Parliament in the historic Reichstag building yesterday, warning that politicians must not sacrifice ethics for power and evoking the Nazi excesses of his homeland as a lesson in history.

Amid scattered protests outside and a boycott by some lawmakers, Benedict began his first state visit to Germany in a bid to stem the tide of Catholics leaving the church while acknowledging the damage caused by the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The pope spoke for 20 minutes in the Reichstag, which was torched in 1933 by Hitler. “We Germans know from our own experience’’ what happens when power is corrupted, Benedict said, describing Nazis as a “highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.’’

But he said even under the Nazi dictatorship resistance movements stuck to their beliefs at a great risk, “thereby doing a great service to justice and to humanity as a whole.’’

He also urged all Germans not to ignore religion.

“Even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart - the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace,’’ he said.

Benedict also voiced strong support for Germany’s ecological movement, calling it “a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside.’’

After the speech, he met with a 15-member Jewish delegation, noting that it was in Berlin that the annihilation of European Jews was organized.

“The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God,’’ Benedict said according to a prepared text.

The Bavarian-born pontiff was met on a red carpet at Berlin’s Tegel airport by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff at the start of his four-day visit. He greeted members of the German Catholic Church, and accepted a bouquet from children waiting with small yellow-and-white Vatican flags.

About 20 protesters stood outside the airport, holding banners with slogans like “Against anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia’’ and “My body, my choice.’’

The Vatican’s views on contraception, the role of women, homosexuality, and its handling of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked Germany last year are seen by many in Germany as outdated. About 100 lawmakers from opposition parties boycotted the pope’s appearance, claiming it violated the separation of church and state. But Benedict looked out on a mostly full house as guests occupied the empty seats and finished his speech to a standing ovation.

Police estimated only “several thousand’’ protesters showed up at the capital’s Potsdamer Platz, far fewer than organizers had predicted. Some 6,000 officers were on duty throughout the city. In a rally during the pope’s speech, protesters held signs with slogans like “Not welcome.’’

“Today is a good day to be visible,’’ said Maria Pflugradt, a 22-year-old student from Cottbus. “Not only because he is against homosexuals, but also because the church has made far too many mistakes in the last centuries.’’

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