Pope Benedict XVI’s first official visit to his German homeland is underway, with a mixed reception in store.
There was a warm if windy welcome at Berlin airport. Greetings came from President Christian Wulff, a Catholic who has divorced and remarried in defiance of Church rules. There too was Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.
The Pope will be touring mainly non-Catholic regions. A record 181,000 disenchanted Catholics quit the Church in Germany last year.
The 84-year-old said today that he could understand why people had left over paedophile priest scandals. But he urged Catholics to see the Church was made of both good and bad, and was struggling to right the wrongs committed in its ranks.
Pope Benedict is addressing the Bundestag today, as the Vatican’s head of state. Around 100 members of parliament plan to boycott the speech.
There will be tight security throughout the four-day trip with anarchists, gay rights groups and radicals planning to stage protests. A rally in the capital today was expected to bring 20,000 people out onto the streets.