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Catholic bishops criticize opposition plans to boycott pope

Germany's political opposition plans to boycott a speech by the pope to parliament out of concern that it violates state neutrality. Catholic bishops, meanwhile, have criticized the move as unjustifiable.

Pope Benedict XVI

Thousands are expected to demonstrate against the pope

Catholic bishops have criticized plans by Germany's political opposition to boycott Pope Benedict XVI's speech to parliament next week for violating the separation of church and state.

"That is so small-minded that one doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry," said Cologne's Archbishop Joachim Meisner. "And the fact that they sit in parliament does not leave a positive mark on the noble representation of the German people."

Around 100 of the German parliament's 620 elected representatives plan to boycott the pope's speech. Those participating in the move come primarily from the opposition Social Democrats, Greens and Left party.

"A critical examination of the content of different positions is acceptable," said Bishop Joachim Reinelt of Dresden-Meißen. "But a flat demonstration of ignorance and bad taste through the announced absence is embarrassing."

Full house

German parliament, Bundestag

Seats are expected to be scarce during the pope's address

The seats left empty by the boycott are set to be filled with other people. The president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert of the conservative Christian Democrats, expects the chamber to be full for the pope's speech.

"I have observed with a certain amusement the number of people who want to participate outnumbers the boycotters many times over," said Lammert.

Around 20,000 people are expected to demonstrate in Berlin as the pope, a German national, addresses parliament.

Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the Social Democrats, sees no problem with the pope addressing parliament despite the controversy.

"I'm of the view that the German parliament is not being misused in any way," Nahles said. "Nobody is being forced to be Catholic or to believe what the pope says."

Author: Spencer Kimball (dpa, epd)
Editor: Martin Kuebler