In his first public appearance since he made a speech last week — in which he appeared to endorse a Christian view that early Muslims spread their religion by violence — the pope said he was “deeply sorry” about the reaction and that medieval quotes he used on holy war did not reflect his own views.
But Muslim leaders said the pontiff’s comments — delivered to pilgrims in his regular Sunday blessing, the Angelus, at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, southeast of Rome — did not go far enough.
“The pope’s comments that downplayed his earlier remarks are not enough. We will not accept anything less than an apology,” said Mohammed el-Sayed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s main opposition group.
Habib had earlier described the pope’s remarks as a “sufficient apology.”
The pope told pilgrims he hoped his remarks now and an explanation by the Vatican Saturday were enough to “placate spirits and give the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was an attempt to frankly and sincerely express my great reciprocal and mutual respect with the Muslim faith.”
“I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims,” the pope said.
“This was a quote from a medieval text which does not express in any way my personal thoughts.”
But the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics failed to make a full apology or retraction called for by some Muslims and it was unclear if his words on Sunday would end the row.
The anger and violence — including attacks on several churches in the West Bank and Gaza — is one of the worst crises the Vatican has faced in years. In Somalia an Italian nun was killed on Sunday in an attack one Islamist source said may be linked to the pope’s speech. (Nun killed)
In Turkey, State Minister Mehmet Aydin said the pope appeared to be saying he was sorry for the angry reaction but not the remarks themselves.
“You either have to say this ‘I’m sorry’ in a proper way or not say it at all,” he told reporters in Istanbul, according to The Associated Press. “Are you sorry for saying such a thing or because of its consequences?”
Benedict is scheduled to visit Turkey in November, where he is to meet with Orthodox Christian leaders. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on Sunday that visit was still on as planned, according to CNN Turk.
Demonstrations against the pope’s comments took place in several cities across Iran on Sunday, Iranian state television reported.
Hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami compared the pope to U.S. President George W. Bush, saying the two were “united in order to repeat the Crusades,” AP said.
“If the pope does not apologize, Muslims’ anger will continue until he becomes remorseful. He should go to clerics and sit and learn about Islam,” he told demonstrators in the holy city of Qom.
Mahmoud Ashour, the former deputy of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world’s most powerful institution, told Al-Arabiya TV after the pope’s speech that, according to The Associated Press, “It is not enough. He should apologize because he insulted the beliefs of Islam. He must apologize in a frank way and say he made a mistake.”
Mohammed al-Nujeimi, a professor at the Institute of Judicial and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, also criticized the pope’s statement.
“The pope does not want to apologize. He is evading apology and what he said today is a repetition of his previous statement,” he told Al-Arabiya TV.
Alert level raised
In his speech to professors on Tuesday the pope, cited the words of 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s founder, as “evil and inhuman.”
“Show me just what Mohammed 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,” Pope Benedict quoted. (Full story)
The reaction from Muslims around the world was strong and swift, prompting Italian police to raise the alert level around the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, a police spokesman said.
The spokesman said measures adopted to safeguard sensitive targets have never been relaxed, but that “obviously, given the circumstances, the attention level has gone up.”
The request to raise the alert level on certain targets came in an internal police memorandum, the spokesman said.
In a statement on Saturday the Vatican said the head of the Roman Catholic Church regretted the reaction.
The pontiff was “very upset that some parts of his speech could have sounded offensive to the sensibility of the Muslim faithful and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond at all to his intentions,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, said in a statement. (Full statement)
The Moroccan Foreign Ministry later recalled its envoy to the Vatican for consultations. The ministry said King Mohammed VI sent a written message to the pope denouncing his “offending statements.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian security sources said a church in Tulkarem was attacked with Molotov cocktails on Sunday, and there was an attempted attack on a church in Tubas, near Jenin.
Authorities were also investigating Molotov cocktail attacks on three churches in Nablus on Saturday, as well as an attack on a church in Gaza.
A group called the “Lions of Monotheism” claimed responsibility for two of the incidents on Saturday, Palestinian security sources said.
In Indonesia, up to 1,000 Muslims rallied in protest at the comments made earlier in the week by the pope, who was citing an obscure Medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam’s founder as “evil and inhuman,” video of the scene showed.
Outside the Palestinian Embassy in Jakarta, police looked on as protesters stood behind the gates waving flags while organizer Heri Budianto shouted, “God is great.” (Watch other Muslims burn the pope in effigy — 1:41)
“Of course as we know the meaning of jihad can only be understood by Muslims,” Budianto told the crowd. “Only Muslims can understand what jihad is. It is impossible that jihad can be linked with violence, we Muslims have no violent character.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the pope on Saturday, telling the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that the pontiff had merely been calling for dialogue with other religions.
“Whoever criticizes the pope misunderstood the aim of his speech,” Merkel was quoted as saying, according to Reuters.
“It was an invitation to dialogue between religions and the pope expressedly spoke in favor of this dialogue … What Benedict XVI emphasized was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion.”
CNN’s Flavia Taggiasco, Hada Messia and Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.
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