Several rows of bright blue seats testified to the absence of a handful of MPs who did not want their places filled to disguise their decision to stay away from the pontiff’s speech.
The invitation to address the Bundestag sparked concern among many that it compromised the separation of church and state. This was countered by others who said his visit here was as the head of state of the Vatican – although one of the first things Benedict said himself was that he was not coming to Germany to talk about politics, but about God.
The warm reception he received reflected at the very least the enduring star-appeal of his position, as well as a deep-rooted respect for the Catholic Church in Germany – seen within most parties, not just the conservative Christian Democrats.
Although he has made speeches in the past that have not gone down so well, Benedict’s Bundestag performance was initially well received across the German media.
The Berlin-based centrist daily Der Tagesspiegel wrote, “The MPs who did not come have missed out on much. They are deprived of a pope who movingly said he was honouring the parliament of his German fatherland. A leader of the Catholic Church, the first German pope for half a millennium, who describes himself as a compatriot, ‘who remains bound to his roots his life long’ – those who only want to see the man as a representative of an authoritarian state organization have been too narrow-minded. They have missed a conciliatory, humorous speaker, who quoted the legal philosopher Kelsen, and said with reference to himself, one can obviously still think sensibly at 84.”
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote, “The appearance of a born German as representative of a foreign state, who calls for his compatriots to have a ‘listening heart’ in his mother tongue is – to say the least – an event of the century. To call upon the political body to become a ‘struggle for justice and to create the conditions for peace,’ could not be done by any other secular guest without appearing presumptuous.
“Considering this message one could be astonished at why the pope as speaker in parliament provoked so much rejection from the start. But in a country of religious as well as permanent political Protestantism as well as well-developed individualism this should actually be no surprise.”
Sensationalist paper Bild wrote, “That was a great day in the history of the German parliament. There spoke a pope who did not proselytize. Who draws his message from the wisdom of his age, from the depth of his belief. That was a great day in the history of the German parliament. There spoke the leader of a billion Catholics across the whole world, of ‘our Basic Law’. Benedict XVI also spoke as a citizen of this country. And he spoke as a European! Human rights, justice, equality of all before the law – that is a gift of this Christian-influenced continent. The pope wants to protect this heritage.
“At a place where politicians often make tin gods of party success, the pope declared the differentiation of good and evil to be the measure of all politics. Reason and cold science alone cannot be allowed to set the rules for people. Here spoke a pope who was buoyant and relaxed. Who also praised the Greens because they, like he, want to protect nature as God’s creation rather than destroy it. In one word he said what many citizens want – politicians need a ‘listening heart’. This papal word will become the basic law of our democracy. Thank you, citizen Benedict!”
The northern regional paper Kieler Nachrichten wrote, “Benedict used his authority in order to call upon the MPs to return. They should, according to his simple reminder, differentiate between good and evil as well as serve justice and peace – only seeming self-evidences which so quickly slip out of focus in the every-day of the modern world.
“That the parliamentary speech despite this, will only develop a limited appeal, lies with Joseph Ratzinger himself. Again, he spoke too little as Benedict and too much as a theology professor. This pope can philosophize blindingly about the basis of justice. Taking doubters with him is, in contrast, much more difficult for him.”
The Regensburg-based Mittelbayrische Zeitung was more positive, writing, “That was a small philosophical-theological stroke of genius from Pope Benedict XVI yesterday in the Bundestag. The head of the Catholic Church told the parliamentarians politely but clearly how much they owed to the European culture in their roles and duties – namely to serve justice and peace.
“And how little they meet these duties, in partisan struggles for majorities, as well as in the situations where they are freed from their party-line constraints. Whether believers or not – and despite the separation of church and state as regulated in the constitution: when it is about making the right decisions as politicians, one is according to Benedict’s opinion, not badly advised by the principles of Christian action.”