BERLIN (AP) — PopeBenedict XVI addressed Germany’s parliament at the historic Reichstag building Thursday, warning that politicians must not sacrifice ethics for power and evoking the Nazi excesses of his homeland as a lesson in history.
Amid scattered protests outside and a boycott by some lawmakers, Benedict began his first state visit to Germany in a bid to stem the tide of Catholics leaving the church while acknowledging the damage caused by the clerical sex abuse scandal.
The pope spoke for 20 minutes in the Reichstag, which was torched in 1933 in an incident used by Adolph Hitler to strengthen his grip on power.
“We Germans know from our own experience” what happens when power is corrupted, Benedict said, describing Nazis as a “highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.”
But he said even under the Nazi dictatorship resistance movements stuck to their beliefs at a great risk, “thereby doing a great service to justice and to humanity as a whole.”
He also urged all Germans not to ignore religion.
“Even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart — the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace,” he said.
Benedict also voiced strong support for Germany’s ecological movement, calling it “a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside.”
After the speech, he met with a 15-member Jewish delegation, noting that it was in Berlin that the annihilation of European Jews was organized.
“The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol who wanted to take the place of the biblical God,” Benedict said, according to a prepared text.
The Bavarian-born pontiff was met on a red carpet at Berlin’s Tegel Airport by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff at the start of his four-day visit. He greeted members of the German Catholic Church, and children waiting with small yellow-and-white Vatican flags presented him with a bouquet.
About 20 protesters stood outside the airport, holding banners with slogans such as “Against anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia” and “My body, my choice.”
About 100 lawmakers from opposition parties boycotted the pope’s appearance, claiming it violated the church-state separation. But Benedict looked out on a mostly full house as guests occupied the empty seats and finished his speech to a standing ovation.
Police estimated that only “several thousand” protesters ended up showing up at the capital’s Potsdamer Platz, far fewer than organizers had predicted. Some 6,000 officers were on hand throughout the city.