Germans shocked and surprised by sudden move

Pope Benedict XVI leaves the meeting of Vatican cardinals at which he announced his resignation. photograph: osservatore romano

Pope Benedict XVI leaves the meeting of Vatican cardinals at which he announced his resignation. photograph: osservatore romano

Tue, Feb 12, 2013, 00:00

GermanyGermany was speechless when one of their own was elected pope in 2005, as they were again yesterday when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.

Only Msgr Georg Ratzinger was not surprised, saying he knew his younger brother had been considering stepping down for several months.

“I was in on the secret,” said the 89-year-old from his home in Regensburg.

“My brother wishes more peace in his old age, age is weighing on him.”

In the pope’s Bavarian birthplace of Marktl am Inn and the nearby town of Traunstein, where he grew up, the mood was one of shock and surprise.

“I just heard the news two or three minutes ago and I don’t know what to say now,” said Gundi Aigner, tourism chief in Marktl, where the pope’s birth house, now a Joseph Ratzinger museum, attracts 50,000 visitors annually.

Mayor Hubert Gschwendtner said the town would “keep his memory”.

In Traunstein, where the pope began his religious studies in 1939, Fr Markus Moderegger, headmaster of the pope’s former school, said the news came as a “bolt out of the blue”.

“I saw him last in 2010 with a group of seminarians, but he seemed very tired at Christmas Mass,” he said.

“It’s an exhausting position but I think this decision is filled with humility and courage and earns our respect.”

Responsible decision

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, described it as a “responsible decision”.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pope would “remain one of the most important religious thinkers of our time”.

In 2009 she criticised the pope publicly for not providing “sufficient clarification” of his disapproval of the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. The Vatican rejected her claim, relations never recovered and Dr Merkel’s criticism still rankles with many German Catholics.

In the land of Martin Luther yesterday, Protestant Church leaders said they were disappointed by a lack of progress building bridges between the Christian faiths.

Nikolaus Schneider, president of the Lutheran Church council in Germany, said he hoped a new pontiff would “set new impulses for ecumenism”.

Theologian Hans Kung, an ex-colleague turned critic of the pope, said it would be difficult for the church to find a successor who could lead it out of its “many-layered crisis”.