As wheels touched down on tarmac, Pope Benedict must have thought his prayers had been answered. On his first state visit to the vaterland, the Roman pontiff was welcomed into Berlin’s Tegel airport with full red-carpet honors and a 21-gun salute. German President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel received him.
First impressions can be deceiving. Given recent criticisms, such a welcome was no foregone conclusion. Grim mutterings in the days and week leading up to his first official state visit, suggested many Germans enjoyed, at best, dimmed enthusiasm. Members of the German press have openly question whether the Holy See still deserves their respect. And having traipsed the red carpet straight to the Bundestag, Benedict was forced pass thousands of demonstrators on his way to address a German parliament conspicuously absent some 100 lawmakers who decided to boycott the speech. It’s hard to imagine Pope John Paul II experiencing such a stale welcome in Warsaw.
Six years ago, when Benedict, née Joseph Ratzinger, was chosen to chair the Vatican, Germans euphorically celebrated this favorite son — the first Deutchlander elected to the papacy in nearly 500 years. But times have changed and this muffled greeting might have been expected. The pope’s visit to Germany was expected to be difficult, given swirling abuse scandals and gathering indifference to the Catholic faith and religion, in general.
Now, with German officials contesting his address on grounds of a desecration of the separation between church and state, Benedict has been accused of disregarding labor rights, women rights, and “sexual self-determination” as part of his push for an increasingly conservative line.
His criticism remains highest among Catholics. In muted concurrence, a record 181,000 Catholics left the German Church last year, nearly double the number that departed in 2009.
It provokes the question: what can be done to repair the faith and patch the solvency of the Church? Certain tenets are sacrosanct, but forward thinking and better communication must be emphasized. Undoubtedly, the biggest problem facing Catholics (myself, included) is a gathering disillusion with what can only be perceived as a slow sink into the morass of widespread sexual degeneracy.
This is unacceptable, and for the sake of the faith and us Catholics who hold out hope for a brighter tomorrow, Pope Benedict must view his trip home as a crucial bellwether of the health of his church.