'Pope Go Home': pontiff met by protests in native Germany
Several thousand protesters, some dressed as condoms and nuns, others as Adolf Hitler, marched against the pope Thursday, attacking his views on issues from gay rights to the priest sex abuse scandals.
Police and organisers said the rally had attracted up to 10,000 people to Berlin's Potsdamer Platz while the pontiff was delivering a speech at the nearby Reichstag parliament building.
In the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI's visit, the coordinators had spoken of a protest numbering as many as 20,000.
One demonstrator was dressed as a giant nun clutching a crucifix and a wooden stick with "never again" emblazoned across her robe, a reference to the high-profile abuse scandal that rocked the Church in Germany last year.
The protesters also held a poignant minute's silence for AIDS victims.
One anti-pope marcher wielded a banner proclaiming: "Pope Go Home," as he began his first state visit to his native Germany.
Other banners read: "Piss off, you evil old man" and "My God loves everyone, even you Joseph," referring to his name before he became pope.
Two artists, Wolfram P. Kastner and Linus Heilig, marched side-by-side, one dressed as the pope, the other as Nazi dictator Hitler -- a reference to a 1933 concordant signed between the Holy See and the Nazi government.
Some demonstrators were protesting against the pope's ban on artificial contraception, with signs reading: "Free choice between AIDS and condoms."
Several dozen leftist deputies also boycotted the pontiff's speech in parliament, amid concerns over the separation of Church and state.
One MP, Rolf Schwanitz from the centre-left Social Democrats, told AFP: "In our constitution, it says that all religions should be treated equally.
"For me, this invitation (to speak in parliament) does not meet this criterion. They say that he has been invited as a head of state, but the Vatican only has a couple of hundred of inhabitants," added the deputy.
He said it made no sense "to invite the head of a dwarf state to speak before the Bundestag".
Berlin's large gay community was also out in force to protest what it says are Benedict's outdated views on sexuality, some carrying banners saying, "Homophobia kills."
Holger Schweitzer, 52, an architect sporting a t-shirt that said: "Homosexuality is curable", told AFP: "I came basically because of the Church's attitude on gay issues."
"We know there are several gay priests and the Church should allow them to say so. This man has a closed mind. He is a long way from reality and I cannot imagine any modernisation" of the Church while he is at the helm, he said.
Protests in Spain last month against the pope's visit turned violent, with clashes between riot police and demonstrators. Thousands turned out to protest against the cost of the pope's visit amid an economic crisis in the country.
Organisers in Germany were adamant before Benedict's arrival that this would not be repeated.
During a 1996 visit by John Paul II to Berlin, protesters shouted abuse and hurled paint at the popemobile. The pope was also confronted by streakers.
© 2011 AFP