Berlin: Dozens of German opposition MPs have announced plans to boycott next week's address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Bundestag, the lower House of the Parliament, in protest against "violation of state neutrality" by the head of the catholic church.

The Left party, which is leading the boycott, said that most of its MPs will stay away when the religious leader of over 1.1 billion catholics addresses the House on September 22.

A spokesman for the Left party told journalists in Berlin that its parliamentarians will not be under the party whip on that occasion and they will be free to decide whether to attend or not.

Besides the Left party, several MPs belonging to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as well as the ecological Green parts, also announced that they will be joining the boycott.

Media reports said more than 100 of the Bundestag's 620 elected representatives plan to stay away when the pope, a German national, speaks at the House as the first head of the catholic church to do so.

Some MPs said instead of attending the pope's speech, they will take part in a parallel protest demonstration outside the Parliament building.

Supporters of the pope's planned speech say that he will be on a state visit to Germany and he will be addressing the Bundestag as more than 30 heads of state and government and other dignitaries did during the last few decades.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union is the only party to confirm that all its MPs will be present.

The Bundestag has been making arrangements to make sure that the pope will be addressing a full house by making available vacant seats to former members of parliament and to its own staff, the reports said.

The Vatican has reacted angrily to the boycott plans and said they will strengthen the image of "ugly Germans" abroad.

Curial Cardinal Walter Brandmueller warned the members of German parliament to be aware of the effects of their protests abroad.

"Through their action, they will strengthen the image of ugly Germans, which unfortunately still exists," Cardinal Brandmueller said.

The planned boycott of the pope’s address is not directed against the Pontiff, "it is a disgrace for Germany," he said.
Germany's catholic church deplored the boycott plans as a "demonstration of ignorance and bad taste" by the opposition politicians.

"The fact that these people sit in the Parliament does not create a positive impression on the noble representation of the German people," Cologne's Archbishop Joachim Meisner said.

The pope is scheduled to arrive in Berlin on September 22 on a four-day visit.