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Local reaction to Pope Benedict’s reference to Islam in an academic talk in Germany took a nasty turn during a speech by an official of the Archdiocese of Denver.
BY WAYNE LAUGESENRegister Correspondent
DENVER — Catholics mustn’t be silent in speaking truth about
Islamic hostilities toward Christians and Jews, said Fran Maier, chancellor of
the Archdiocese of Denver.
“To ignore these truths, or to
downplay them, is not an act of good will,” Maier said. “It really verges on
being seriously sinful.”
Maier’s comments came after the
physical disruption of a lecture and a week of intimidating phone calls to the
archdiocese from Palestinians who want the archdiocese to stop presenting facts
about Islamic abuses of Christians and Jews.
“I fielded a flurry of phone
calls, mostly from Palestinians, complaining about our lectures,” said Phil
Webb, director of marriage and family life for the archdiocese. “Most were from
Denver, but I did get a call from Hawaii and one from Palestine.
These were Palestinians who want their land back and they resent the
nation-state of Israel.”
A lecture by Maier turned
physically and verbally confrontational one day after Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg
speech. Palestinians and other Muslims took offense to Maier’s speech and the
scheduled talk of Jewish professor Jonathan Adelman,
a nationally renowned defender of Israel.
The intimidating phone calls were
received in the week between the Maier and Adelman
lectures. Callers warned archdiocesan officials against going forward with the
Sept. 21 talk by Adelman, a Denver University
professor of international studies and former dissertation adviser to Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice.
“These were Palestinians who view
Dr. Adelman as a Zionist, and they view him as
dangerous,” Webb said. “They wanted him not to speak. They didn’t make specific
threats, but they were insistent that Dr. Adelman not
give his speech.”
“Everything that has happened over
the last week has proven every single point of the Holy Father’s talk in Regensburg,” said Maier,
a day after hosting Adelman’s talk.
Pope Benedict XVI stirred
controversy around the globe by quoting 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel
II Palaeologus, who said, “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.”
Palestinian Muslims and Muslim
extremists reacted to the Pope’s remarks by shooting at and firebombing
churches in the West Bank and Gaza.
An Italian nun and her bodyguard were shot and killed in Somalia, though
it’s not clear whether the attack was in response to the Pope’s speech.
Maier said he and Denver
Archbishop Charles Chaput never considered canceling Adelman’s speech, which boldly outlined historical and
contemporary violence perpetrated against Christians and Jews by Muslims.
does not respond well to bullying,” Maier said. “It’s a bad strategy with him.”
The archbishop serves on the U.S.
Commission for International Religious Freedom, and Maier said Archbishop Chaput has worked tirelessly to promote strong interfaith
relationships between Catholics and other faith communities. Adelman’s lecture was co-sponsored by the American Jewish
“The archbishop very much wants
good relations with Muslim communities, but it has to be based on truth, and
truth is unpleasant,” Maier said. “In truth, the Muslim community’s record in
regard to its relations with Christians and Jews is not a good one. There are
plenty of sins on both sides of the Christian/Islamic divide, but Christians
acknowledging their sins is not adequate. It has to be both ways, and in our
experience it hasn’t been.”
Maier kicked off the 2006
Archbishop’s Lecture Series Sept. 13 with a talk titled “Christian-Muslim
Relations in the Wake of 9/11.”
When the speech ended, a young
Middle Eastern man named Mohamed shouted from the audience, challenging Maier’s
conclusions and sources.
“It was hot, I had been up at the
podium for an hour and I was kind of testy,” Maier told the Register. “This was
not billed as an interfaith event, and I made that clear at the beginning of
the lecture and it was made clear on our website. This was a catechetical event
for Catholics. So I told this man I did not want to take his questions because
he was not Catholic, and this was an educational event for Catholics.”
The man sat down and another man
in the audience, who did not appear to be of Middle Eastern descent, flew into
a verbal tirade, using profanity and calling Maier an “arrogant bastard.”
“He called me a lot of things,
including a ‘theocon dictator,’ and he became very
argumentative,” Maier said. “He started using a string of profanity, and
another guy in the audience stood up to him and said ‘you can’t do that here.’
Then it reached the fist-fighting stage.”
Three other men jumped in and
restrained the two men, ultimately escorting the instigator from the building.
A week later, at the Adelman speech, armed Denver
police officers positioned themselves around the perimeter of the audience in
the John Paul II Center on the campus of the archdiocesan
headquarters. The audience was invited to submit questions in writing, and the
event went off without confrontation.
Maier said the Archdiocese of
Denver plans to continue promoting truth about the nature of Islamic/Christian
relations, regardless of resistance from Muslims.
“The goal of looking at historical
fact is not to engender anger or hatred, but sobriety,” Maier said. “That
sobriety should really inform our decisions about the future. The history of
Islamic treatment of Christians and Jews is very distressing, and it continues to
be that way.”
Maier said his speech was intended
to help Christians understand that Islam differs substantially from
“It’s important to understand that
the Islamic conception of God is very different from ours,” Maier said. “These
are not just doctrinal differences, but real world, civilizational
differences that affect they way societies treat one another.”
Salma Tariq Shukri, secretary of the University
of Colorado Muslim Student Association
said she’s offended by the Pope’s quotation of Emperor Palaeologus.
She said any effort by Catholics to characterize her religion as “anything but
peaceful” should be countered.
“Mohammed was not violent or evil
in any way,” Shukri told the Register. “He’s a role
model, and in our every-day lives Muslims try to take after him in every way.
He is all about peace.”
Though Muslims believe in one God,
have rich traditions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Maier said they reject
the Trinity, the Gospels, the sacraments, the resurrection and the divinity of
Christ. He said their understanding of the identity and role of Abraham, the
common patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, differs greatly from that
of Christians and Jews.
Adelman delivered a similar message to a
packed John Paul
telling the audience that Middle Eastern aggression toward Israel and the United States reflects a
counterrevolution against peace and prosperity enjoyed by most of the
“In terms of Jewish extremism and
Christian extremism, there’s no question there has been extremism,” Adelman said. “There’s no question that excesses by various
Western religions have led to a series of religious wars. Fortunately, that is
largely in the past. This dialogue between Catholics and Jews is an example of how
relationships between Catholics and Jews have changed dramatically. We have put
behind extremisms and hatreds of the past, but our problem is that in the
Islamic world extremism is still very much alive and well.”
At least one U.S. based Islamic organization, the Florida chapter of the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, has come to the defense of Christians in
the wake of the violent reaction to Pope Benedict’s speech. The council
announced Sept. 21 that it would deliver $5,000 in seed money to help repair
six churches in Palestinian
Territories, damaged by
Muslims who were angered by the Pope’s speech.
Wayne Laugesen writes from