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Where the pope's words resonate

In small Bavarian towns like Traunstein, Pope Benedict's hometown, the Catholic Church is central to the community.

The sun rises at the Ettendorf chapel before the start of the traditional Georgi horse-riding procession on Easter Monday in the southern Bavarian town of Traunstein on April 13, 2009. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

TRAUNSTEIN, Germany — In the Church of St. Veit and Anna, which sits alone atop a hill in the Bavarian town of Ettendorf, every pew was packed and some people were standing.  On this first Sunday after Easter, people shuffled over a bit to make room for two latecomers, but the new arrivals knew to simply close the heavy oak doors behind them and remain in place while joining in with the choir. 

The service offers a glimpse of a sort of idealized past, the kind of loyal German Catholic congregation that would have existed long before the wider church's current descent into turbulence and rancor.

The last weeks have been an all-out crisis for the church, which represents 1 billion Catholics worldwide, with much of the scandal centered in Germany. What started as a trickle of reports of abuse by priests in Germany has become an ever-worsening flood. The public has been almost as outraged by the Vatican's efforts at damage control as by the abuses themselves.

Already one bishop has submitted his resignation as a result of the fallout. Some Germans have suggested that Pope Benedict XVI — who, in his role as a bishop in Germany in the early 1980s, has been implicated in the pastoral re-assignment of an alleged pedophile priest — should do the same. A recent poll shows nearly a quarter of German Catholics are considering leaving the faith because of the Church's disregard for the trust that German society had placed in it.

But in the town of Traunstein, where the pope came of age, Catholic life carries on as it always has — for now. Locals feel proud that the pope, known then as Joseph Ratzinger, was born and raised in this stretch of idyllic Bavarian countryside. There is strong support for him here despite the scandal swirling around his papacy.

Benedict's style of governance of the church — from the unforgiving tenets of his theology, to the certainty of his piety, to the defensive nature of his reaction to the abuse scandals — may not have been received well by the Western public at large. But in Traunstein and across the rural pockets of Bavaria, the Vatican's reticent response to the abuse scandals — no matter how tone-deaf they  may sound elsewhere — find their proper register.