Pope lauds Greens in German parliament speech

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Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday praised the work of the Green movement in Germany in fostering respect for the environment even as several Green deputies joined a boycott of his first speech to a parliament.

The pope also defended the role of Nature and God in shaping Europe's culture and political philosophy, warning that a modern trend toward positivism, defined as the rule of logic and the rejection of metaphysics, threatened man's very humanity.

"To serve right and fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician," he told deputies in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

The pope, 84, who had to be helped to the podium, praised the emergence of the ecological movement in his native Germany, saying it "continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside just because too much of it is seen to be irrational."

"Young people (have) come to realise that something is wrong in our relationship with nature... but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives," he added.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics said his remarks should not be taken as promoting any one political party, which drew laughter and applause from the chamber, sparking a grin from the pontiff.

The speech, which wrapped up with a standing ovation from lawmakers, came amid strong criticism by leaders of the Greens and other left-leaning parties, which said he threatened to undermine the separation of Church and state.

Dozens of deputies boycotted the address, with the parties' parliamentary groups averting the unseemly sight of rows of empty seats by inviting retired lawmakers to fill them.

However much of the far-left Linke's section was abandoned, as well as the back benches of the other two opposition parties.

At a protest nearby that drew a few thousand people behind police barricades, a Social Democrat member of parliament, Rolf Schwanitz, said he was skipping the speech because it made no sense "to invite the head of a dwarf state (the Vatican) to speak before the Bundestag".

In the 20-minute address, the pontiff avoided the hot-button issues targeted by his critics such as recent sexual abuse scandals and his fervent opposition to abortion, homosexuality and a bigger role for women in the Church.

Some 30 foreign dignitaries have addressed the Bundestag to date.

The Greens, who advocate a strong division of Church and state, have seen their popularity boosted over the past few months in Germany where an opinion poll, on Wednesday, said 20 percent of Germans would vote for them.

The German-born pope, speaking in his native language, underlined the need for justice, warning that when politicians lose their moral compass, it can result in the coming to power of movements such as that of the Nazis.

As a result, "a highly organised band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss" took over in Germany, said the pope, himself a member of the Hitler Youth during World War II.

Speaking of Europe's cultural political background, the pope warned that "where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else -- and that is broadly the case in our public mindset -- then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded."

"Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity," he added.

Positivism also encourages "extremist and radical movements" to emerge to fill the vacuum left in Western culture, the pope added.

© 2011 AFP

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