National Catholic Register


U.S. Muslims Express Anger

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.


Register Correspondent

October 1-7, 2006 Issue | Posted 9/27/06 at 10:00 AM


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.

“Archbishop Chaput 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 Committee.

“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 Christianity.

“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 in Boulder, 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 II Center, 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 non-Muslim world.

“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

Boulder, Colorado.