Friday, September 23, 2011, by AFP
Pope Benedict XVI expressed understanding yesterday for those who had turned their backs on the Catholic Church after the recent sex abuse scandals, on his first state visit to his German homeland.
At the start of a four-day trip, the Pontiff also took a conciliatory tone with thousands of protesters rallying in free-wheeling, increasingly secular Berlin and reached out in the former Nazi capital to the Jewish community.
"I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims, would say 'this isn't my Church anymore'," the Pope, 84, told reporters on his plane from Rome in reference to widespread abuse by priests.
But he asked for patience as the Church grapples with enduring outrage over the scandals that has threatened to cloud his visit to Germany, where his election six years ago had met with an outpouring of joy.
The Church "is a net of the Lord which catches both good fish and bad," he said ahead of his arrival, which was met with a 21-gun salute and children bearing flowers under glorious autumn sunshine.
He said in his first speech to a national assembly, Germany's Bundestag lower house of Parliament, that public officials must embrace their moral responsibilities.
"To serve right and fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician," he said in an address that met with a standing ovation as well as a boycott by dozens of leftist lawmakers.
The Pope said growing positivism, the rule of logic and the rejection of metaphysics, was diminishing humanity and encouraging "extremist and radical movements" to fill a vacuum left in Western culture. Germany's Christians are split down the middle between Catholics and Lutherans, each with about one-third of the population in the country that was the cradle of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.
A few blocks away behind police barriers, peaceful demonstrators, some dressed as contraceptives and nuns, rallied against Pope Benedict's views on issues ranging from gay rights to the paedophile priest scandals.
Police and protesters put their number at around 10,000, half the number organisers had expected.
Pope Benedict told reporters demonstrations were "normal in a free society marked by strong secularism."
"One can't object" to such protests as long as they were "civil", he added. "I respect those who speak out."
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