National Catholic Register

Vatican

Conflagration

Pope Benedict regrets remarks that sparked Muslim rage

BY REGISTER STAFF

September 24-30, 2006 Issue | Posted 9/25/06 at 10:00 AM

 

VATICAN CITY — Muslim extremists raged and rioted over words from a university lecture by Pope Benedict XVI during his recently concluded trip to Germany.

The hostile reaction continued despite the Pope’s expression Sept. 17 of “deep sorrow” over the negative reaction to his remarks, and despite the Vatican’s repeated efforts to point out that the Holy Father’s remarks were taken out of context and misinterpreted by his critics.

On Sept. 18, between 500 and 1,000 protesters marched in Basra, Iraq, to condemn the Benedict’s comments, CNN reported.

Effigies of the Pope were burned during the Basra protest and an al Qaeda-linked militant group vowed a war against the “worshippers of the cross” in response to the Holy Father’s comments, CNN said.

The remarks that triggered the global outpouring of Muslim outrage occurred in a speech Benedict delivered Sept. 13 to an audience of academics at the University of Regensburg in the Pope’s Bavarian homeland (see story on the Pope’s visit, page 5).

The primary thrust of the speech was an analysis of the negative consequences of modern attempts to sideline faith in God from scientific explanations of reality.

The speech did not target Muslim societies as ones where this mode of thought is prevalent. In fact, the Holy Father noted that religious, non-Western cultures often are offended and frightened by this Western conception, which regards belief in God as separate from the exercise of reason.

However, while primarily a critique of Western rationalism, the introduction of Benedict’s speech did include a brief passage involving Islam.

To introduce the theme of his lecture, the Pope quoted from an account of a 14th-century dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed Muslim scholar. The Holy Father said the account was marginal to his theme, but that he found it interesting — particularly when the emperor touched upon the subject of Islamic holy war.

Benedict cited what the emperor told the Islamic scholar: “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.”

Twice, the Pope emphasized that he was quoting someone else’s words.

The Holy Father said the emperor must have known of Mohammed’s early teaching that “there is no compulsion in religion,” but was no doubt also aware of later instructions in the Koran about holy war.

In the account, the emperor goes on to explain why spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable, because violence is incompatible with God and with the nature of the soul.

Benedict then pointed to a key question about Islam that is raised by the narrative: whether God is absolutely transcendent for Muslims, and therefore not bound up with “any of our categories, even that of rationality.”

The Pope did not offer an answer to that question. Instead, he went on to explore, in great detail, why Christian theology has affirmed that faith is indeed based on reason.

Reject Violence

Shortly after the Holy Father returned to Rome Sept. 14, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, papal spokesman, issued a statement saying it was very important to Benedict that there be a “clear and radical refusal of religious motivation of violence.”

But he said the Pope was not presenting an in-depth assessment of the concept of jihad or Islamic thinking about holy war, and it was certainly not his intention to “offend the sensibilities of Muslim believers.”

Father Lombardi noted that, on the contrary, the Holy Father’s talk was primarily about the religious shortcomings of the West.

After reading press reports of the papal speech, Ali Bardakoglu, the head of Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs, said Sept. 14 that Benedict had offended Muslims and should apologize, and questioned whether the Pope should visit Turkey as planned in late November.

“I do not see any use in somebody visiting the Islamic world who thinks in this way about the holy prophet of Islam. He should first rid himself of feelings of hate,” Bardakoglu told Turkish television.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the apostolic vicar in Anatolia, the Asian part of modern Turkey, said Benedict’s remarks were being taken out of context by Turkish media, prompting widespread criticism of the Pope.

“Even if there are pressures for the Pope to apologize or cancel his trip, I think the Holy Father will follow the program that has been prepared for the trip,” he told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency.

Pakistan’s Parliament Sept. 15 passed a resolution criticizing Benedict for making what it called “derogatory” comments about Islam and asking him to apologize for offending Muslim sentiments.

In Egypt, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the Pope had expressed “wrong and distorted beliefs” about Islam. A similar statement came from the Indonesian Mujahedin Council.

‘Outstretched Hand’

Several Vatican officials expressed deep dismay that Muslim reactions were based on news media accounts of the papal speech.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Vatican Congregation for Interreligious Dialogue and Culture, said a careful reading would show that Benedict had offered to Islam “an outstretched hand” in the battle against an oversecularized global culture.

“I invite our Muslim friends of goodwill to take the Pope’s text in hand and read it in its entirety and meditate on it,” the cardinal said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

However, despite the Vatican’s initial efforts, Muslim outrage over the Pope’s comments continued to mount, sparking anti-Christian violence in the Holy Land. On Sept. 16, a string of fire-bombings and shootings occurred against Christian churches of various denominations in Nablus, Tubas, Tulkarem and Gaza City.

No injuries were reported in those attacks. But some media observers suggested that the Sept. 16 murder of an Italian nun, Sister Leonella Sgorbati, in Mogadishu, Somalia, was a consequence of the attacks.

While a spokesman for her order, the Consolata Missionaries, said in statements to Reuters that the congregation has “no reason” to believe the murder was linked to Benedict’s speech, speculation of such a link was raised in media reports because of a call Sept. 16 by a religious leader in Mogadishu to all Muslims to avenge the Pope’s perceived condemnation.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s new secretary of state, issued a formal statement Sept. 16 disassociating the Pope from having any intention to offend Muslims or to express disrespect for Islam in his Sept. 13 speech (see sidebar).

Benedict’s Words

During his Sept. 17 Angelus remarks, Benedict addressed the controversy personally.

“At this time, I wish also to add that 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. “These, in fact, were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.”

Added the Holy Father, “Yesterday, the cardinal secretary of state published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words. I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.”

(CNS, Zenit and Vatican

Information Service

contributed to this story.)

‘A Clear and Radical Rejection of Violence’

VATICAN CITY — Here is the text of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s Sept. 16 statement regarding the controversy engendered by Pope Benedict XVI’s speech Sept. 13 at the University of Regensburg.

“Given the reaction in Muslim quarters to certain passages of the Holy

Father’s address at the University of Regensburg, and the clarifications and explanations already presented through the director of the Holy See Press Office, I would like to add the following:

“The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that expressed by the conciliar document Nostra Aetate (The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions): ‘The Church also regards the Muslims with esteem. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the Day of Judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.’

“The Pope’s option in favor of interreligious and intercultural dialogue is equally unequivocal. In his meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, on Aug. 20, 2005, he said that such dialogue between Christians and Muslims ‘cannot be reduced to an optional extra,’ adding:  ‘The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity.’

“As for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus that he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way. He simply used it as a means to undertake — in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text — certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come. On this point, it is worth recalling what Benedict XVI himself recently affirmed in his commemorative message for the 20th anniversary of the Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace, initiated by his predecessor John Paul II at Assisi in October 1986: ‘Demonstrations of violence cannot be attributed to religion as such but to the cultural limitations with which it is lived and develops in time. ... In fact, attestations of the close bond that exists between the relationship with God and the ethics of love are recorded in all great religious traditions.’

“The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions. Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervor of Muslim believers, warned secularized Western culture to guard against ‘the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom.’

“In reiterating his respect and esteem for those who profess Islam, he hopes they will be helped to understand the correct meaning of his words so that, quickly surmounting this present uneasy moment, witness to the ‘Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men’ may be reinforced, and collaboration may intensify ‘to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.’”

Vatican Information Service