Pope hits German heartland 'shaken' by abuse victims meeting

24th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI received a warm welcome in Germany's Catholic heartland Saturday after a minor security scare and an emotional meeting with victims of sex abuse by priests.

Around 25,000 people lined the streets in blazing sunshine in the historic centre of this picturesque university town to welcome the pontiff on the final leg of his gruelling four-day state visit to his native country.

Benedict, addressing the crowds in front of Freiburg's 800-year-old cathedral, spoke of his "great joy" at being here following the "wonderful meetings that took place in Berlin and Erfurt."

The 84-year-old pontiff then met former chancellor Helmut Kohl, considered the father of German unity, and representatives of the Orthodox Church.

He was also scheduled to speak with leaders of Germany's lay Catholics and hold a prayer vigil with some 24,000 young people in the evening.

On Sunday, the fourth and final day of his trip, Benedict was to hold an open-air mass for as many as 84,000 at an airfield before returning to Rome at the end of the day.

Security was high, with most of Freiburg's city centre heavily cordoned off and around 5,000 police officers deployed. Unlike in Berlin, which had been the pope's first stop, demonstrations were restricted.

Earlier on Saturday, in the eastern German city of Erfurt, a man fired four shots from an air gun at two security officials about two hours before the mass there.

But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters that the incident had "nothing to do with the pope", that the pontiff had not been informed and that no one in the papal entourage had noticed. Police took a suspect into custody.

Police in Freiburg said the incident had no political motive and would not affect their security plans.

In Erfurt, the evening before, Benedict received three men and two women for a 30-minute meeting that was "very, very emotional," Hans Langendoerfer, the coordinator of trip, told AFP.

Lombardi stressed only the pope himself and the bishop of Trier in western Germany, Stephan Ackermann, had met the victims so that the atmosphere could remain informal and allow the victims to speak without any inhibitions.

"The pope is someone who listens a lot. He listens more than he speaks in this sort of situation," Lombardi said.

A Vatican statement released after the meeting described Benedict as being "moved and deeply shaken by the suffering of the victims... (and) expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families."

But campaigners were unappeased.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, from a group representing those abused by paedophile priests, said the meeting was "a slap in the face, because there were no actions."

"The Vatican should open up its archives, where the abuse is documented. They should finally be investigated. It doesn't mean anything, in our eyes, for the pope to meet a few people who have stayed true to the Church," he said.

"Many people left the Church and he does not want to meet those who left."

US group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was similarly unimpressed.

"The popes meeting will do nothing to stop priests from molesting kids or bishops from concealing crimes," said the group.

Revelations that hundreds of people had been molested in Catholic institutions over several decades badly dented the image of the Church in Germany, with more than 181,000 people leaving last year, many as a result of the crisis.

On the way to Germany, the pope had told reporters he could understand those who had decided to turn their backs on the Church as a result of the scandal.

At his meeting with representatives of the Orthodox Church in Freiburg, Benedict reiterated his stance on issues such as artificial contraception, abortion and gay marriage.

He called on Christians to "oppose vigorously every manipulative and selective intervention in the area of human life" and to defend "the integrity and the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman from any kind of misinterpretation."

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article