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Pope Benedict arrives in Berlin to a dissonant welcome

Pope Benedict XVI is starting his visit to Germany in Berlin, which is divided over his address to the Bundestag as well as his views on such issues as homosexuality and women's role in the church.

By Correspondent / September 22, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, at the house of the German Bishops Conference in Berlin, Thursday, Sept. 22. Pope Benedict XVI is on a four-day official visit to his homeland of Germany.

Czarek Sokolowski/AP

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Berlin

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived for a four-day tour in Germany, the third time the pontiff has returned to his home country, and the first time he has made an official visit to the capital. But the city is deeply divided over how to welcome the man, who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Joseph Ratzinger, was considered a Roman Catholic hard-liner, and who, as leader of the Catholic church, is seen by many here to have failed to address necessary reforms.

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In his first speech, the pope criticized an increasing indifference toward religious matters in Germany. “Religion is the foundation for togetherness in society,” he said, standing with German President Christian Wulff – a divorced and remarried Catholic – in front of Bellevue presidential palace.

Even before he arrived, a bitter controversy had broken out over the pope’s address to the German parliament, the Bundestag, this afternoon.

“He is one of the few true authorities of our time,” said Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag and a conservative parliamentarian. “It is an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have him speak in the plenary.”

But more than a hundred MPs chose to miss this opportunity. “The pope holds views I consider not just highly controversial, but dangerous,” says Hans-Christian Ströbele, a lawyer and Green MP. “Why should the elected representatives of the German people honor a man who risks people’s lives when he condemns the use of condoms, who does not support the important role his own church plays in places like Latin America, who is against homosexuals?”

Berlin has a large gay community, and many of them were among the 5,000 or so protesters who gathered at Potsdamer Platz, not far from the Bundestag, while the pontiff gave his speech. “The pope represents inhumane gender and sexual policies,” says Lisa Garbe, spokeswoman of Berlin’s Gay and Lesbian Association. “He calls a free society the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ This can’t go unchallenged.”

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