Bishops force the Pope to censor his words

Catholic sensitivities about the Church's role during the Nazi regime were laid bare yesterday during the first papal visit to reunited Berlin. Under pressure from German bishops, Pope John Paul was forced to censor his own speech, omitting a passage which had tried to exonerate the Vatican's relations with Hitler.

In his prepared homily at the Olympic Stadium built for the 1936 Games, the Pope intended to praise his war-time predecessor, Pius XII, who has been criticised in the past for not denouncing Nazism: "Those who do not limit themselves to cheap polemics know very well what Pius XII thought about the Nazi regime, and how much he did to help the countless victims persecuted by the regime," read the text.

But those words did not pass his lips, just as similarly glowing references to "resistance" offered by the Church as a whole had been omitted from a mass he delivered in the German city of Paderborn on Saturday.

Yesterday's event, held in front of 100,000 worshippers, was dedicated to the memory of Catholics who did oppose Hitler. The Pope, barely able to walk, beatified Bernhard Lichtenberg and Karl Leisner, two priests who had paid for their courageous stand with their lives. "Today, the two martyrs celebrate the victory right here in the place where 60 years ago the National Socialist regime wanted to use the Olympic Games as a triumph of their inhumane ideology," he declared.

But his three-day visit to Germany is likely to be remembered for the words he did not utter. Apart from omissions dealing with Nazism, the Pope had been expected to dilute the Vatican's disdain for Martin Luther, who remains excommunicated from the Catholic Church. "[Luther's] attention to the word of God and his determination to follow what he saw to be the true path of faith cannot allow us to overlook his personal limitations," was the best the Pontiff could muster in the way of absolution.