End of the Line: The Pope steps down- a decision of historic proportions

The Catholic Church in Flensburg, Germany  Photo taken in April 2011

History has a way of creating the best out of people. When Pope Benedict XVI was nominated to take over for the deceased Pope John Paul II in 2005, he made history in Germany as the first person in over 450 years to rule the Catholic Church, the highest position in a religion that has prospered for over 2000 years. Eight years later on 11 February, 2013, he made history again- by stepping down from that same post- the first pope to do it in nearly 600 years! Another mark in the history books for both The Church as well as Germany!

The news of his spontaneous decision to call it quits caught the author by surprise, as it came in the midst of the Carnevale season where people can sin to their hearts content until Lent season arrives, which is tomorrow. There have been some mixed reactions to the news of the Pope’s resignation. Many news agencies and even the Protestant Church in Germany view his decision as a sign of respect, knowing the fact that at the age of 85 and with no strength left, it was time to call it quits. Normally when anointed the Pope of the Church, he is expected to rule in the Vatican until his very death. Records show that the Pope has ruled the Church for an average of 23 years.  Yet at the time of their deaths, the average age was 87 years.  When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he was 85 years old, but had ruled the Vatican for 26.5 years. The longest reigning Pope however was Pope Leo XIII, who ruled for 31 years from 1878 until his death in 1903- at the age of 93! So the decision for Benedict XVI to step down for health reasons is a more logical choice, for he can retire peacefully instead of trudging through every ceremony until it was his time to die.

Yet by the same token, the Pope may have been pressured to leave by the cardinals within his own Church, as in the eight years he  was directing the Vatican, he was beset by numerous scandals that left the credibility of the Church, let alone the Catholic religion, in question. Two key clusters of scandals come to mind: First the sex abuse scandal involving hundreds of priests from churches around the world (including Germany and the USA) and three times as many victims, who have come forward to open up and in some cases, even confront the Pope during his visit. The number of cases are infinite and there are still many that have yet to be closed. The Pope’s responses have still to this day not satisfied both those affected but also the devoted ones who followed him from the start. Some have speculated that he either turned a blind eye or encouraged the priests to abuse the children.  In either case, many have turned their backs on the Church because of the scandal and it was not surprising that public outcry demanding the Pope’s resignation created tremors felt by the Vatican.

The other scandal dealt with his stance on Islam, and in particular, the speech in 2006 at the University of Regensburg, which created a stir among the Muslim community. Again, theories connected with his childhood and his service in the Nazi Army during World War II may have played a role in these comments. Yet, the comments were retracted and the Pope made tried to make peace by visiting the Islamic countries, visiting many Muslim priests and politicians from Islamic countries, and in cases of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, areas that are dominantly Muslim, he pleaded for peace and prosperity within the region and other areas.  While the Pope opened the doors and offered peace to other religions with little or no incident, the relationship with the Muslim was perhaps the most delicate for any action by the pontiff would be watched by many around the world.

Overall, the era of Benedict XVI represented the changing times, something which despite his attempts to return Catholicism to its traditional roots in the face of modernism, had to be embraced in one way or another, regardless of the issues he had to face both within the Vatican as well as with the general public. While he won respect by many for his attempts to open the doors of the Church for people of all religions to enter, he faced so much in terms of scandals and criticism to a point where it drained every bit of energy out of him. It was even noticeable during his visit to central and southwestern Germany in October 2011, when the more energetic and open-hearted Pope passed through the city center of Erfurt, and addressed the crowd at the Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) as well as at a youth camp near Leinefelde in northwestern Thurngia. (A column on the Pope’s visit can be found here.) But when the announcement was made yesterday, he was weak, frail and at his end- similar to what had happened to Pope John Paul II in the last three years of his term before his death.  Perhaps it was high time for him to step down, for it does not pay to rule the Church in a physical state as he was in.  Yet a decision to do just that was historic, something that we will most likely see only once in our lifetime.  While he may be nearing the end of the line (he steps down on 28 February), he left the church open to the next person (most likely a younger cardinal) to take over and continue with his work of restoring the identity of the Church, while at the same time, not alienate the other religions, whether it is the Protestants, the Jews, or the Muslims.


Guttenberg Update: Germany’s Most Spectacular Resignations

Willy Brandt ans Fenster- The hotel across from the Erfurt railway station where Chancellor Willy Brandt met Erich Honecker in 1970 and spoke in front of a crowd of thousands. The champion of Ostpolitik resigned in 1974, but left a legacy that still exists today. Photo taken in March 2011

As recently as this past Saturday, there was a very intriguing article that was published by Germany’s tabloid magazine “Bild Magazin” that dealt with Germany’s 100 most spectacular resignations by some of the country’s most renowned celebrities. This was in connection with the most recent resignation of another celebrity, Germany’s most beloved politician and now former defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, which Thomas de Maiziere, the former Interior Minister has taken over his post while thousands of demonstrators throughout Germany on Saturday rallied behind the embattled CSU politician picked to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While going through the article, I was amazed at who stepped down but also the reasons for them calling it quits. Some were understandable; others were scandalous; the rest were just dumb mistakes costing them dearly or just really dumb reasons- in either case, the Germans were not impressed with that at all. I decided to disect this article and pick out the celebrities that some of you know and categorize them based on the Top 5 of the most spectacular resignations up until Guttenberg’s exit, but not including Edmund Stoiber, who was mentioned too many times already. Then I chose five honorably mentioned candidates and two wild card candidates among the German celebrities. Each of the resignations will include a small comment on the part of yours truly. So without further ado, here we go.


1. Horst Köhler, German President- From the 23rd of March, 2004 until his resignation on 31 May of last year, he held the second highest post next to the German Chancellor, a post in which Johannes Rau his predecessor once held. Despite his success in bringing unity to Germany, involving the troops in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and strengthening ties with Israel, he did not get the respect that he had expected from the German population and to a certain degree, the Dream Coalition (CDU and FDP) and therefore, he stepped down in May 2010. It was too bad, as he was really good at providing families with a good fireside speech around Christmas time and on New Year’s Eve. Tough call for someone holding a prestige office, who did a good job, but dissatisfaction in a job like that because of such circumstances does call for a change in scenery, and someone like Christian Wulff, the former minister of Lower Saxony, to take over.

2. Erich Honecker, Chair of the SED Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)- now part of Germany- From 1970 until 18 October, 1989, he led East Germany, and every classroom and workplace had a portrait of the SED Party Chair for people to look at and praise. He was famous for his comments “The Berlin Wall is going to last for another 100 years,” mentioned in January 1989 and “”Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism,” an excerpt from an adage by August Bebel he used during his speech on the occasion of the GDR’s 40th Birthday on 7 October, 1989. However the progress towards democracy was too strong for East Germany to withstand and it only lasted until the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. Honecker did not even last before that as he was removed on 18 October. The official reason was his poor health. However, literary sources indicated that he was forced out thanks to influence by Michail Gorbachev, who coined his famous words, “Life punishes those who wait,” also at the 40th anniversary celebrations.  Egon Krenz took over and allowed for life to change course in the interest of both West and East Germany with the opening of the Wall and its eventual Reunification, one of the best events of all time. As for Honecker,  he eventually fled to Chile to avoid arrest and prosecution by the German government, where he died in 1994.

3. Willy Brandt, Chancellor of (West) Germany 1969-1974- Willy Brandt will always be remembered for his Ostpolitik policies, designed to improve relations between East and West Germany. This included a direct visit with Erich Honecker and a speech from the window of his hotel in front of the railway station in Erfurt in 1970, plus winning the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. Unfortunately, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Brandt’s popularity as Chancellor dropped to the floor when it was revealed that his personal assistant, Günther Guillaume was arrested for being an East German spy. Brandt resigned from his post on 6 May, 1974, with Helmut Schmidt taking over from there, but he remained as the chair of the SPD until 1987. He died five years later. Still many places in Germany and Europe are named in his memory because of the legacy he left behind. This includes the hotel in Erfurt across from the central railway station, where Brandt spoke to a large crowd in 1970 (Named Willy Brandt ans Fenster- Willy Brandt at the Window). Even the university renamed the institute of political science The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, a name that has been carried since 2009.

4. Walter Mixa, Bishop of the Augsburg (Bavaria) Cathedral- This was a classic example of a scandal involving the Catholic Church in Bavaria, which costed this gentleman his post as well as his post as the military bishop in Germany- child abuse scandal plus fraud involving taking money from an orphanage. At least a dozen scandals involving priests and bishops popped up in this traditionally Catholic state in the past two years, raising the question about the credibility of the Church in that region, plus the moral values that exist as a whole. Furthermore there are some speculations that Pope Benedict XVI may be involved, even though he has not raised this issue nor has there been enough evidence to indict him as of present. More scandals in Bavaria? To be continued…..

5. Thomas Gottschalk, actor- At 61, the person had a nice well-rounded career as an actor, was a spokesperson for the Haribo gummibears  as well as moderator of his TV show “Wetten, dass….” (I bet you that….). That was until a freak accident involving a stuntman attempting to roller blade over an oncoming car left him paralyzed and Gottschalk’s career in limbo. On 12 February, 2011, he stepped down, taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing to his audience. Perhaps he took a lesson from Clint Eastwood, when he quoted in the second Dirty Harry film: “Man’s gotta know his limitations.”


1. Margot Kässmann, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Chuch of Germany (EKD)- The 52-year old from Marburg (Hesse) had a promising future until she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2010. She resigned from both posts after that. Smooth move, wasn’t it?

2. Wolfgang Petry, folk music singer- Celebrities can be sick and tired of being a star to a point where they just want to call it quits. While we’re seeing that with the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in American football (NFL) who claims he has more than enough money that he can walk away and never play for the team again, he probably took that line from this German folk music singer. Petry suddenly stepped away from the scene in 2006 after many years of singing, claiming he had enough of the show business. What he’s doing now is unknown at present.

3. Rudi Voller, former German national soccer team head coach- Sometimes (but not always) great players make bad coaches. This was a textbook example. While Voller excelled as a soccer player for Bayer Leverkusen and helped the German national team win the World Cup in 1990, he could not convey his success as a coach to his players and resigned after Germany was eliminated in the 1st Round of the European Championship in 2004. A consolation however was the fact that the team did finish second in the World Cup, years earlier, so all was not lost for him. He now is athletic director for his former team, Leverkusen.

4. Jürgen Möllermann, Minister for Agriculture; President for the German-Arabian Society; Chair of the FDP in North Rhein-Westphalia- A problem child for the politicians, Möllemann got himself in trouble for using the ministry’s paper to apply for a job at a company of his relative’s in 1993, which costed him his post as Minister for Agriculture under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Tax evasion on various counts plus his anti-semite comments during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002 led to a legal hunt by the police and other authorities. However, before he could be arrested, he died in a tragic parachutte accident on 5 June, 2003; it is unclear whether his death was an act of sabotage, an accident, or suicide attempt. The case has not been solved as of present.

5. Axel Schulz, boxer- Having a successful career as a boxer and picked to be a heavy favorite to beat Vladimir Klitschko in 1999, everyone was expecting him to win the EM Boxing match, right? Not unless you have life insurance! Not only did Klitschko beat him romped him in the boxing ring through a technical knock-out in September 1999, but Schulz resigned right away after the match. Despite a comeback attempt in 2005, he never won any international titles, despite many attempts to win the belt in his 17 year career, counting his six year hiatus between 1999 and 2005.


1. Gregor Gysi, Economics Minister for the City of Berlin- Resigned for using the bonus miles on his company car for private purpose in 2002. And this for a city that has been broke for years…..

2. Marlies Mosiek-Urbahn, Family Minister for the State of Hesse- Resigned from her post because she divorced her husband in 2001, and it affected her credibility as minister. Curious.

While Germany has been and is still famous for its high quality products and service, a strong health care and social welfare system, and for greats like Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, it cannot escape the scandals that have been growing by the numbers in the past two years. Regardless of whether they come from Bavaria, Hesse, or even the northern parts of Germany, they have been leaving questions about the credibility of the politicians in the Bundestag among Germans and those looking in from the outside. Yet the problem is universal, as one can see the scandals going on in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries and they are even weirder than what I mentioned here. But the question is, should we follow their lead or clean up our reputation and lead by our example. This is the question that will come up in the upcoming elections in 2013, together with another question: Do you elect someone by popularity but marred by scandal or do you go with someone unknown but gets the job done anyway?  Since the identity of the US is in question because of the number of crises that has erroded its credibility as a superpower, countries like Germany are stepping up to set an example for others to follow. But that is accompanied by these scandals that can and will potentially hinder that success. The best solution to this problem is to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly. Only then will one find out whether that decision was the right one to begin with. And that decision will affect those who look up to countries like Germany, as a role model, a teacher, and a mentor of high morals and principles….



(Update on the Guttenberg Scandal)


(Demonstrations for Guttenberg’s Return to Politics)



(Der Bild’s 100 most spectacular resignations in detail- and in German!)