Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: The Papal Controversy – Manufactured? Plus, Vatican Text

How interesting. In the latest news story on the Pope's words, you finally see some qualification by the writer of the story – which we didn't easliy see in earlier, arguably inflamatory versions – that the Pope's words came in the context of "a broader talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence." Yet it is not reported that Benedict distanced himself in any way from the quotation from the Byzantine Emperor, although he led into it by mentioning its "startling brusqueness." What is quoted is that "'The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,' the pope said."

The thing is, that quotation and the use of the word "jihad" does not appear in the published transcript (see earlier entry).

It does, however, appear in The New York Times' earlier version of the story, and it is that which is repeated here in the Associated Press story. Is the published transcript at fault, and did the Pope ad lib his way through his own prepared comments? Could be. I don't know. Or are members of the press guilty of using one another's stories as resources for their own, so that we see a "snowballing" effect where reporting is being based on earlier interpretations of the events that may themselves be faulty?

I am still extremely interested to find out how this story got started. Who was it who isolated that particular quotation from the Pope's address, highlighting those parts of it that had the least importance to his address? How is it that a news story about the Pope's call for reasonable and nonviolent dialogue between religions was instead reported in such a way as to provoke angry and violent protest throughout the Muslim world?

Has someone crossed the line of created news, instead of reporting it?


Below the cut, I have the most recent AP story in the affair, "Pope Stops Short of Apology to Muslims." Myself, I am glad that the Vatican had the wisdom to do this, even if it is inflamatory for the situation as it is playing out in the Muslim world. No one, not even the Pope, ought to be bullied into apologizing for something he did not say, as it has been taken. The Islamic world also has to step up to the plate and learn to behave with a little more "sweet reason" themselves. At least in how it's being reported, we are seeing the most senseless "rush to judgment" there. You really have to wonder if those Muslims bombing churches in Israel know that they are doing so in protest of a statement against religious violence.

Pope Stops Short of Apology to Muslims
Sep 16, 3:39 PM (ET)


VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI "sincerely regrets" offending Muslims with his reference to an obscure medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman," the Vatican said Saturday.

But the statement stopped short of the apology demanded by Islamic leaders around the globe, and anger among Muslims remained intense. Palestinians attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza over the pope's remarks Tuesday in a speech to university professors in his native Germany.

In a broader talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence, Benedict cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pontiff didn't endorse that description, but he didn't question it, and his words set off a firestorm of protests across the Muslim world.

The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that says the church "esteems" Muslims.

Benedict "thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions," Bertone said in a statement.

He noted that earlier during his German trip, Benedict warned "secularized Western culture" against holding contempt for any religion or believers.

Bertone said the pontiff sought in his university speech to condemn all religious motivation for violence, "from whatever side it may come." But the pope's words only seemed to fan rage.

Bertone's statement, released Saturday by the Vatican press office, failed to satisfy critics, although British Muslim leaders said it was a welcome step.

Mohammed Bishr, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member in Egypt, said the statement "was not an apology" but a "pretext that the pope was quoting somebody else as saying so and so."

"We need the pope to admit the big mistake he has committed and then agree on apologizing, because we will not accept others to apologize on his behalf," Bishr said.

There was no indication whether the pope would do so. His first public appearance since his return from Germany was set for Sunday, when Benedict planned to greet the faithful at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence in the Alban Hills near Rome.

Morocco recalled its ambassador to the Vatican on Saturday to protest the pope's "offensive" remarks, and Afghanistan's parliament and Foreign Ministry demanded the pope apologize.

Turkey cast some doubt on whether Benedict could proceed with a planned visit in November in what would be the pontiff's first trip to a Muslim nation.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the pope apologize to the Muslim world, saying he had spoken "not like a man of religion but like a usual politician."

Asked if Muslim anger would affect the pope's trip to Istanbul, where he hopes to meet with Orthodox leaders headquartered there, Erdogan replied, "I wouldn't know."

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's 200 million Orthodox Christians, issued a statement saying he was "deeply" saddened by the tensions sparked by the pope's comments.

"We have to show the determination and care not to hurt one another and avoid situations where we may hurt each others' beliefs," the Istanbul-based Patriarchate said.

In West Bank attacks on four churches, Palestinians used guns, firebombs and lighter fluid, leaving church doors charred and walls scorched by flames and pocked with bullet holes. Nobody was reported injured. Two Catholic churches, an Anglican one and a Greek Orthodox one were hit. A Greek Orthodox church was also attacked in Gaza City.

A group calling itself "Lions of Monotheism" told The Associated Press by phone that the attacks were a protest of the pope's remarks on Islam.

During his speech, Benedict stressed that he was quoting words of a Byzantine emperor and did not comment directly on the "evil and inhuman" assessment. On Saturday, Bertone said that "the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way."

Benedict quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "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 grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world's most powerful institution, condemned the pope's remarks as "reflecting ignorance."

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose Southeast Asian nation has a large Muslim population, demanded that Benedict retract his remarks and not "take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created."

In a first reaction from a top Christian leader, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church criticized the pope. "Any remarks which offend Islam and Muslims are against the teachings of Christ," Coptic Pope Shenouda III was quoted as telling the pro-government newspaper Al-Ahram.

The Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah and Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim religious authority also denounced the pope's comments.

British Muslims sought to calm the situation, praising the Vatican statement on behalf of the pope.

"We welcome his apology and we hope now we can work together and build bridges. At the same time we would condemn all forms of violent demonstration," Muhammad Umar, chairman of Britain's Ramadhan Foundation, a youth organization, told Sky News.

But Muhammad Abdul Bari, general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the pontiff needed to repudiate the emperor's views he quoted to restore relations between Muslims and the Roman Catholic Church.

In India, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, who is president of the Indian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the Christian community in that country must face Muslim protests over the pope's speech "with Christian courage and prayer because truth needs no other defense," according to AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news agency.

Text of Vatican Statement on Pope Speech
Sep 16, 10:28 AM (ET)

By The Associated Press

Text of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's statement, issued Saturday in Italian, about criticism in the Muslim world over Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Islam and violence. English translation is provided by the Vatican:


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 Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. 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" (no. 3).

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 20 August 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, which 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 Inter-religious 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 should 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" (Nostra Aetate no. 3).
Tags: benedict xvi, cultural, ethical, interreligious, islam, media, papacy, political, regensburg, theological notebook

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