Prayers and emotion in ailing ex-pope Benedict’s German home region

The declining health of former pontiff Benedict XVI has sparked a wave of emotion in the region of Bavaria where he was born, while the controversies that marked his time in office remain vivid for many.

Regensburg choir
Members of the Regensburger Domspatzen girls' choir sing during their first appearance during a service at the Regensburg Cathedral on December 18th. Photo: Christof Stache / AFP

A handful of faithful in the German town of Regensburg braved the early morning cold on Thursday to attend mass at the gothic cathedral, where a large portrait of the pope emeritus sits on the altar.

“I am asking you to accompany Benedict on his final journey,” Regensburg’s auxiliary bishop told worshippers.

The hommage to Benedict is particularly poignant in the medieval city on the banks of the Danube, where the former pope lived and worked at the local university for years.

On Wednesday, current Pope Francis called on all Catholics to say a “special prayer” for his predecessor, whose health had worsened considerably in recent days.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about Catholicism in Germany


In Regensburg, everyone has their anecdote about the former pope, who taught at the university between 1969 and 1977 and came back regularly to visit his brother, the leader of the cathedral choir.

“He often came past our house,” said Birgit Steib, 53, on her way out of the morning mass. A biologist by profession, she said she was “shaken” by the news from the Vatican, where Benedict still lives.

“He was a great theologian. I learnt a lot from him,” said Eva Maria Strobel, 64, a religious studies teacher at a secondary school, after a later mass at Saint John’s collegiate church, next to the cathedral.

“He was often in Regensburg. It was like we were in the same family,” she said, recalling the pride felt locally at Benedict’s nomination in 2005. “During mass at the cathedral we all applauded.”

“Everyone is very attached to Benedict XVI here,” said Siegfried Hofer, 53, another local resident and Catholic. “You are very moved when you know that a pope from Regensburg is dying,” he added.

Around 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Regensburg to the south in Benedict’s hometown of Marktl am Inn the mood is also sombre.

“Benedict is very present here,” Amelie, 14, told AFP. “I’m moved by it already a little,” she said of the news of the pope’s ill-health.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI at Munich Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool | Sven Hoppe

On Wednesday night in Saint Oswald’s church in Marktl, where the young pope, born Joseph Ratzinger, was baptised, a red candle was lit in front of a portrait of the pope.

“Many tourists come to Marktl just because of him,” said Cornelia Haubrich, 59, who lives locally.

She recalls coming “very close” to the pontiff during a visit in September 2006, a “special” moment for her family.


The sympathy felt for one of Bavaria’s most famous sons does not however disguise the bitterness over the scandals which dogged Benedict’s time in office, notably over paedophilia and the Catholic church.

“Personally, I am not his biggest fan because he covered up a lot… that he was responsible for, which was not alright,” Sybille Mandl, 70, told AFP in Regensburg.

As elsewhere around the world, the Catholic Church in Germany has been rocked by child sex abuse scandals, which have caught up with the former pope.


A damning report last January accused him of personally having failed to stop four predatory priests in the 1980s while archbishop of Munich.

Benedict has denied wrongdoing and the Vatican has strongly defended his record.

Karin Frauendorfer, a resident in Marktl, said she was “disappointed by him” over the scandal.

But she believes the episode has also weighed heavily on the former pontiff, and now hopes “he finds his peace”.

By Florian Cazere with Andrea Hentschel in Marktl am Inn

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German Catholics challenge Vatican with sweeping reform drive

Germany's Catholic Church has ended a landmark renewal project by agreeing a slew of reforms including blessing same-sex marriages and allowing female deacons, at the risk of angering the Vatican.

German Catholics challenge Vatican with sweeping reform drive

Bishops, priests, nuns and lay representatives of the Church gathered in Frankfurt from March 9-11 for the last assembly of Germany’s “Synodal Path”, a process launched in 2019 in response to the clerical sex abuse scandal.

Some 200 delegates voted on 15 separate issues, among the most high-profile of which was the overwhelming agreement to ordain women into the diaconate.

Deacons can assist priests during Mass, perform baptisms and bless marriages.

The final decision on whether to allow female deacons remains with Pope Francis.

The delegates in Frankfurt did not go so far as to vote in favour of female priests, a far more contentious issue.

The “Synodal Path” participants also backed offering blessings for same-sex couples, in defiance of the Vatican which considers homosexuality a sin.

Crucially, the measure was supported by a majority of German bishops, who have the authority to perform the ceremonies in their diocese without Vatican approval.

The result was welcomed by the head of the German Bishops’ Conference Georg Baetzing as a “very good” outcome.

Blessings for same-sex relationships are already offered in Germany by some Catholic priests, but the public show of support is likely to encourage more such ceremonies.

‘Can’t stay the same’

The German reform drive, which has included controversial discussions about priestly celibacy and changing the decision-making structure in Church, has sparked deep tensions with Rome and even triggered fears of a schism.

Baetzing played down those concerns in Frankfurt.

“The Synodal Path neither leads to a division nor is it the beginning of a national Church,” he told delegates.

Baetzing hopes the German proposals will be incorporated in Pope Francis’s global synod, which will see a discussion about Church reforms in October.

Germany’s Catholic Church remains the country’s largest religion, counting 21.6 million members in 2021.

But it has lost around three million members over the last decade and struggled to recruit new priests, spurring calls for modernisation and renewal.

Much of the exodus came in the wake of revelations of child sex abuse by clergy, mirroring similar scandals around the world.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference and released in 2018 showed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some type of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.

However, the authors said the actual number of victims was almost certainly much higher.

The president of the lay-run Central Council of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp, said she had “wished for more” change after the Frankfurt assembly.

“The Church cannot remain as it is,” said Stetter-Karp, also the co-president of the “Synodal Path”.

She praised the decision on female deacons, as well as a proposal to ask Pope Francis to re-examine priestly celibacy.

But she regretted that no progress had been made on overhauling the power structure within Germany’s Catholic Church, given a lack of the required support from bishops.

“Anyone who takes the abuse scandal seriously, must work on structural changes,” she said.