‘A Sense of Duty’: Germany Reacts to Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a statement on Feb. 11, 2013, in Berlin, following the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will step down

The mayor of Marktl am Inn, the tiny village in Upper Bavaria where Pope Benedict XVI was born, is surprised to hear his village’s favorite son will be stepping down, but says it won’t be bad for business. “I saw him last year in Rome for his 85th birthday, and he seemed in good mental and physical shape” recalls Hubert Gschwendtner. “So, yes, this was completely unexpected. It is a shame. It is a loss.”

But Gschwendtner says he still expects that Marktl am Inn will be a top destination for tourists and pilgrims. Marktl am Inn is a village of less than 3,000 souls, but it now attracts about 100,000 tourists per year; last year, 20,000 people visited the Pope’s birth home alone, according to Gschwendtner. “It was double that in the first two years of his papacy, but it has leveled off now and we really don’t expect it to change,” says the mayor. “After all, his birthplace is a historical fact.”

In the nearby city of Passau, Catholic priest Mirko Legawiec says the resignation was perfectly in line with the Pope’s character. “This is proof of his humility. To admit your weakness in public. I regret that he is stepping down, but I can understand. To me every word that he spoke was golden. And I think he was appreciated by many more people than the media would have you believe. His books were best sellers.”

Reinhold Plenk, a retired lawyer who is head of Passau’s Catholic Business Association, says that given the Pope’s age, “it was a surprise decision, but it was an important decision. It was good.” Plenk says he believes the Pope will be known more for his defense of church dogma than his ability to touch peoples’ souls.

Dr. Heribert Woelki, the head of a Catholic geriatric hospital in Düsseldorf, praises the Pope for stepping down. “It is probably one of his German qualities,” says Woelki. “A sense of duty. All of his decisions were well-thought-out.”

Dr. Marianne Kolmar, a physician in Berlin, agrees. “I think this shows character. It’s good when someone can gauge for themselves whether they are fit for a job, and then accept the consequences of their own assessment.”

“He was a very conservative figure, who had a following, but I don’t think most Germans will see this as a loss,” says Sebastian Fuchs, who works for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin, a policy organization with close ties to the conservative Christian Democratic Union party. “I can understand the decision though — he really is old.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated the Pontiff on his reign: “As Chancellor, I thank Benedict XVI for his work and wish him from the bottom of my heart all the best for the coming years.” Merkel, a Protestant, also applauded his efforts to reach out to other denominations and religions, in particular, the other doctrinal faiths, Judaism and Islam. “Benedict XVI is and will remain one of the most important religious thinkers of our time,” she said.