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UC Berkeley Press Release

Pope's impact in Germany

– Two professors of German at the University of California, Berkeley, are available to talk to reporters about the election Tuesday of 78-year-old Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany to be the Roman Catholic Church's new pope. Specifically, professors Hinrich Seeba and W. Daniel Wilson can speak to why Benedict XVI will be controversial in Germany, where Seeba says that the pontiff's "very conservative views and actions are rejected by the majority of Germany's dwindling faithful."

Hinrich C. Seeba
Professor of German
Phone: (510) 642-2010
E-mail: hcseeba@berkeley.edu
Expertise: Intercultural German studies, German identity and national culture. Seeba was born and raised in Hannover, Germany, and earned his degrees at German universities, including the University of Tuebingen in 1967. He was a visiting professor at the Free University of Berlin in 1992.

Seeba says that only German nationalists - and the people in Marktl on the Inn River, where Joseph Ratzinger was born, or in Traunstein, (also in Bavaria), where he grew up - can rejoice in the fact that the new pope speaks Latin with a German accent.

"For decades," says Seeba, "Germans have been painfully aware that the one powerful force in the Vatican in the way of modernizing the Catholic Church was German-born." In more academic circles, Seeba says, it has not been forgotten that the liberal theologian Hans Kueng, who enjoyed the protection of Pope John XXIII (until the latter's death in 1963) was eventually removed from the Catholic faculty at Tuebingen. It occurred largely because of Ratzinger, despite the fact that Kueng had been instrumental in appointing Ratzinger to the Tuebingen faculty, he says.

The "historic crisis of credibility" that Kueng says has afflicted the Catholic Church under John Paul II can only worsen under Benedict XVI, says Seeba. "Thus, it is with very mixed feelings," he says, "that I - with a Ph.D. from Tuebingen in 1967 and teaching German literature and culture at UC Berkeley ever since - react to the news of a 'German pope,' who, according to his own biographer John Allen, proudly stands for 'ecclesial totalitarianism.' Any expert critically engaged with German culture would be concerned about such a prospect."

W. Daniel Wilson
Professor of German
Phone: (510) 642-2973
E-mail: dawn@berkeley.edu
Expertise: Wilson teaches the literature and culture of enlightenment through classicism and Romanticism, emphasizing political, social and gender aspects; the sociology of the intellectual and the writer; responses to the French Revolution; 'Enlightened' Absolutism; and social history of women, the family and sexuality.

Wilson says Benedict XVI will be controversial in Germany, as he has been in the past. The new pope is "a hard-liner and has had conflicts with the German church, which is generally more liberal than he is," he says. Ratzinger was instrumental in disciplining liberal Swiss theologian Hans Kueng, an important and highly respected liberal Catholic theologian, says Wilson, and in enforcing strict church doctrine on abortion counseling.

The pope also doesn't seem to have much liking of ecumenicalism and has spoken negatively of other Christian denominations, Wilson says.