CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy – Pope Benedict XVI warned of moral and ethical erosion in his native Germany, particularly on right-to-life and marriage issues.
The pope linked the weakening of traditional moral principles to a new concept of God – an impersonal and invisible God who has little impact on society.
The pope’s remarks came in a welcoming speech Sept. 13 to Germany’s new ambassador to the Vatican, Walter Schmid, who presented his credentials at a ceremony at the papal summer villa outside Rome.
The pope zeroed in on continuing efforts in favor of gay marriage in Germany, saying that the church “views with concern the growing attempt to eliminate the Christian concept of marriage and the family.” Marriage should always be a permanent union between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life, he said.
He criticized legislative initiatives that “suggest a reevaluation of alternative models of the life of couples and the family,” saying they contribute to the weakening of principles of natural law and to the spread of moral confusion in society.
Germany has since 2001 permitted registered partnerships that do not, however, enjoy all the rights of marriage. In August, a German court ruled that same-sex couples who have registered their partnership are entitled to the same inheritance rights as married couples.
Pope Benedict said new developments in biotechnology and medicine have raised crucial issues for German society, and require careful study to make sure they do not result in the manipulation of the human being and the violation of human dignity.
“We cannot refuse these developments, but we must be very vigilant,” he said.
“Once the distinction is made – and often this already happens in the mother’s womb – between life that is worthy and unworthy to live, no other phase of life will be spared, least of all old age and sickness,” he said.
The pope said the duty to protect the human person precisely in situations of weakness was a Christian principle anchored in natural law.
Last June, a German court ruled that it was not a crime to remove life support of a terminally ill person if that person had given consent. Active assisted suicide remains a crime in Germany.
The pope noted that over the next year, several German martyrs who were killed under the Nazi regime will be beatified; a Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis for his preaching will also be commemorated.
Together, he said, they offered “an impressive witness of the ecumenism of prayer and suffering that flourished in various places during the dark period of the Nazi terror.”
The pope contrasted this witness of the faith with widespread religious indifference in modern Germany.
“Today, fortunately, we live in a free and democratic society. At the same time, however, we notice that among many of our contemporaries there is not a strong attachment to religion,” he said. One factor, he said, was that the personal God of Christianity has been largely replaced by “a supreme being, mysterious and undefined, who has only a vague relationship with the personal life of the human being.”
He warned that, especially in discussions of justice and legislative issues, this concept of God is increasingly popular: an “alternative ‘god’ who doesn’t know, who doesn’t hear and who doesn’t speak and who, more than ever, has no will. If God has no will, good and evil can no longer be distinguished.”
The pope said the weakening of the idea of God creates a downward spiral in society, as people lose moral and spiritual strength, and as social questions are determined more and more by private interests and balances of power.
For these and other reasons, he said, it is essential for Christians to affirm the “fundamental and permanent importance of Christianity in laying down the foundations and forming the structures of our culture.”
Pope Benedict also had some cautionary words about the mass media and the search for truth. Because of increasing competition, he said, modern media feel driven to provoke the “maximum attention possible,” particularly when it involves conflict, which “generally makes news, even when it goes against honesty in reporting.”