Pope seeks to calm anger of Muslims

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI sought Sunday to extinguish days of anger and protest among Muslims by issuing an extraordinary personal apology for remarks he made referring to Islam as “evil and inhuman.”

“I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address,” the 79-year-old pope told pilgrims at the summer papal palace, Castel Gandolfo, under increased security, “which were considered offensive.”

“These were in fact quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought,” he said in Italian, according to the official English translation. “The true meaning of my address in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.”

He made his apology amid much worry in the church about violence and any erosion of the status of the papacy as a neutral figure for peace among faiths. In Somalia on Sunday, the Italian Foreign Ministry reported, an Italian nun was shot and killed. The day before, five churches were firebombed in the West Bank and one in Iraq.

Church experts said it appeared to be the first time a pope had made such a direct apology.

“This is really, really abnormal,” said Alberto Melloni, professor of history at the University of Modena who has written several books on the Vatican. “It’s never happened as far as I know.”

Beyond the anger among Muslims, the comments have also provoked a complicated debate in Italy and among Catholics, on issues including the fallibility of the pope; whether he realized the reaction he would provoke; and whether the pope’s speeches, which he usually writes himself, are properly vetted by a Vatican under bureaucratic transition.

For many conservatives, fearful of terror attacks in the name of Islam and rising Muslim immigration in Europe, the remarks of the pope, despite his own denial that he meant to criticize, amounted to a rare public discussion of a sensitive question: whether, in fact, Islam is at the moment more prone to violence.

Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy, said Saturday that the comments amounted to “an opening, a positive provocation. And so for this reason he is a great pope, with a great intelligence.”

The pope made his own public apology after two other clarifications from senior Vatican officials since the speech, which was delivered last Tuesday at Regensburg University in Germany, where the pope used to teach theology. The speech was largely a scholarly address criticizing the West for submitting itself too much to reason and walling God out of science and philosophy.

But he began the speech by recounting a conversation on the truths of Christianity and Islam that took place between a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Persian scholar.

“He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,'” the pope said.

He also briefly discussed the Islamic concept of jihad, which he defined as “holy war,” and said that violence in the name of religion was contrary to God’s nature and to reason.

At the same time, though without mentioning Islam specifically, he suggested reason as the basis for “that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.”

In the speech, he did not say whether he agreed with the quotations he cited about violence and Islam, but on Sunday he distanced himself from them.

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

It was not immediately clear whether this apology would tamp down the anger, which recalled the furor this year after European newspapers published cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad.

In Egypt, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had criticized the pope, initially said that the remarks represented a “good step toward an apology.” Later statements from the group, however, seemed to cast doubt on whether it accepted the apology fully.

In Gaza, the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, sought to tamp down violence by denouncing attacks on a half dozen churches there and in the West Bank. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ and home to many Arab Christians, police presence was higher than usual.

“The Christian brothers are a part of the Palestinian people, and I heard the highest Christian authority in Palestine denouncing the statements against Islam and against Muslims,” Haniya told reporters.

Protest continued around the Muslim world Sunday.

In Iran, several hundred theological students were given the day off to protest in Qum, the nation’s center for religious study, as the Vatican envoy in Teheran was summoned for official complaint about the remarks. Several radical Iraqi groups posted threats on the Internet against the Vatican and Christians generally.

In Mogadishu, the capital of the former Italian colony of Somalia, an Italian nun died after being shot several times in an ambush in a hospital in which a Somali bodyguard was also killed. It was unclear whether the attack was retribution for the pope’s remarks, though the Vatican issued a reaction.

The Reverend Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman was quoted by the ANSA news agency as calling the killing “horrible.” “We hope it remains an isolated incident,” he said.

While anger remained high in Turkey, the nation’s foreign minister, Abdullah Gul said Sunday that he expected a trip Benedict planned there in November to go ahead. But he called the pope’s remarks “really regrettable.”

The Vatican’s new secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisco Bertone, also said Sunday that he expected the pope to visit Turkey. “For the time being, there is no reason” why he should not, he told the ANSA news agency.

The furor, which has brought the first major crisis in Benedict’s 17-month papacy, has also set off a round of second guessing in the Vatican and among church experts about exactly what happened.

First among the questions, which the pope denied Sunday, was whether he in fact meant to make a statement about Islam and violence. Second was whether he realized the extent of the reaction.

But what was more concrete, experts said, was that the issue raised questions both about how the church operates under this new pope and to what extent his statements are checked and balanced diplomatically, now that he is no longer an academic but the leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.

Benedict is used to writing his own speeches, and several Vatican officials said he had written the address given Tuesday, one of the most significant of the papacy, by himself.

The officials, speaking privately because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that there was concern in the Vatican before he delivered it, both about the reaction and about how the press would portray the passages relating to Islam.

That concern was relayed up the chain of command, the officials said, but it is not clear if the pope heard it.

At a time when the Vatican has just changed its second-in-command and its foreign minister, many experts also said that it does not have enough experts on Islam to gauge reaction to any papal statements.

What Muslims Should Be Outraged Over:

“They have nobody to really ask,” said the Reverend Thomas Michel, secretary for inter-religious dialogue for the Jesuit order of priests. “Whoever looked at it and let that go through is someone who doesn’t understand Muslims at all.”

In February, Benedict reassigned the Vatican’s senior Arabist, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the head of inter-religious dialogue, to Cairo as the Vatican envoy there.

The move was seen at the time as a sign of Benedict’s skepticism about the value of dialogue with Muslims.

“I think one may say, if it is not too impolite, that it is time to bring back Monsignor Fitzgerald,” said Melloni, the professor at the University of Modena.

ROME Pope Benedict XVI sought Sunday to extinguish days of anger and protest among Muslims by issuing an extraordinary personal apology for remarks he made referring to Islam as “evil and inhuman.”

“I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address,” the 79-year-old pope told pilgrims at the summer papal palace, Castel Gandolfo, under increased security, “which were considered offensive.”

“These were in fact quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought,” he said in Italian, according to the official English translation. “The true meaning of my address in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.”

He made his apology amid much worry in the church about violence and any erosion of the status of the papacy as a neutral figure for peace among faiths. In Somalia on Sunday, the Italian Foreign Ministry reported, an Italian nun was shot and killed. The day before, five churches were firebombed in the West Bank and one in Iraq.

Church experts said it appeared to be the first time a pope had made such a direct apology.

“This is really, really abnormal,” said Alberto Melloni, professor of history at the University of Modena who has written several books on the Vatican. “It’s never happened as far as I know.”

Beyond the anger among Muslims, the comments have also provoked a complicated debate in Italy and among Catholics, on issues including the fallibility of the pope; whether he realized the reaction he would provoke; and whether the pope’s speeches, which he usually writes himself, are properly vetted by a Vatican under bureaucratic transition.

For many conservatives, fearful of terror attacks in the name of Islam and rising Muslim immigration in Europe, the remarks of the pope, despite his own denial that he meant to criticize, amounted to a rare public discussion of a sensitive question: whether, in fact, Islam is at the moment more prone to violence.

Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy, said Saturday that the comments amounted to “an opening, a positive provocation. And so for this reason he is a great pope, with a great intelligence.”

The pope made his own public apology after two other clarifications from senior Vatican officials since the speech, which was delivered last Tuesday at Regensburg University in Germany, where the pope used to teach theology. The speech was largely a scholarly address criticizing the West for submitting itself too much to reason and walling God out of science and philosophy.

But he began the speech by recounting a conversation on the truths of Christianity and Islam that took place between a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Persian scholar.

“He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,'” the pope said.

He also briefly discussed the Islamic concept of jihad, which he defined as “holy war,” and said that violence in the name of religion was contrary to God’s nature and to reason.

At the same time, though without mentioning Islam specifically, he suggested reason as the basis for “that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.”

In the speech, he did not say whether he agreed with the quotations he cited about violence and Islam, but on Sunday he distanced himself from them.

It was not immediately clear whether this apology would tamp down the anger, which recalled the furor this year after European newspapers published cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad.

In Egypt, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had criticized the pope, initially said that the remarks represented a “good step toward an apology.” Later statements from the group, however, seemed to cast doubt on whether it accepted the apology fully.

In Gaza, the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, sought to tamp down violence by denouncing attacks on a half dozen churches there and in the West Bank. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ and home to many Arab Christians, police presence was higher than usual.

“The Christian brothers are a part of the Palestinian people, and I heard the highest Christian authority in Palestine denouncing the statements against Islam and against Muslims,” Haniya told reporters.

Protest continued around the Muslim world Sunday.

In Iran, several hundred theological students were given the day off to protest in Qum, the nation’s center for religious study, as the Vatican envoy in Teheran was summoned for official complaint about the remarks. Several radical Iraqi groups posted threats on the Internet against the Vatican and Christians generally.

In Mogadishu, the capital of the former Italian colony of Somalia, an Italian nun died after being shot several times in an ambush in a hospital in which a Somali bodyguard was also killed. It was unclear whether the attack was retribution for the pope’s remarks, though the Vatican issued a reaction.

The Reverend Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman was quoted by the ANSA news agency as calling the killing “horrible.” “We hope it remains an isolated incident,” he said.

While anger remained high in Turkey, the nation’s foreign minister, Abdullah Gul said Sunday that he expected a trip Benedict planned there in November to go ahead. But he called the pope’s remarks “really regrettable.”

The Vatican’s new secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisco Bertone, also said Sunday that he expected the pope to visit Turkey. “For the time being, there is no reason” why he should not, he told the ANSA news agency.

The furor, which has brought the first major crisis in Benedict’s 17-month papacy, has also set off a round of second guessing in the Vatican and among church experts about exactly what happened.

First among the questions, which the pope denied Sunday, was whether he in fact meant to make a statement about Islam and violence. Second was whether he realized the extent of the reaction.

But what was more concrete, experts said, was that the issue raised questions both about how the church operates under this new pope and to what extent his statements are checked and balanced diplomatically, now that he is no longer an academic but the leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.

Benedict is used to writing his own speeches, and several Vatican officials said he had written the address given Tuesday, one of the most significant of the papacy, by himself.

The officials, speaking privately because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that there was concern in the Vatican before he delivered it, both about the reaction and about how the press would portray the passages relating to Islam.

That concern was relayed up the chain of command, the officials said, but it is not clear if the pope heard it.

At a time when the Vatican has just changed its second-in-command and its foreign minister, many experts also said that it does not have enough experts on Islam to gauge reaction to any papal statements.

“They have nobody to really ask,” said the Reverend Thomas Michel, secretary for inter-religious dialogue for the Jesuit order of priests. “Whoever looked at it and let that go through is someone who doesn’t understand Muslims at all.”

In February, Benedict reassigned the Vatican’s senior Arabist, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the head of inter-religious dialogue, to Cairo as the Vatican envoy there.

The move was seen at the time as a sign of Benedict’s skepticism about the value of dialogue with Muslims.

“I think one may say, if it is not too impolite, that it is time to bring back Monsignor Fitzgerald,” said Melloni, the professor at the University of Modena.

This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014    

Religion News Blog was founded by Anton Hein, and is edited by David Anderson
Share This