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Theological Notebook: More on the Papal/Islam Brouhaha

Just a few more AP stories on all the fallout of the nonsense that has been made of the Pope's plea for rational religious dialogue and nonviolence between religions. Murder and arson was offered as a response to his request, apparently sparked in outrage that violence would be deemed evil by Christians, and Benedict issued a statement of regret about how his words were taken and a clarification and plea to pay attention to what he actually said.

I jot down here the following AP stories, including a list of the striking apologies from John Paul's public "examination of conscience" for the Church prior to the millennium (although I note that some of the ways they are recorded, like "apologizing for condemning Galileo for saying the Earth wasn't the center of the universe," have little to do with what happened historically and more to do with how the story has been told in modern times, since the Catholic priest Copernicus had put forward that theory to intense interest and acclaim, even at the Vatican, some 50 years earlier). I also include a story touching on the situation of Middle Eastern Christians who have had to flee their countries in vast numbers over the last 30 years in the face of intense tolerance and nonviolence. I even toss in that last story about the 100 year-old Anglican priest as a tiny feel-good story found in a weekend of grim news.
Pope Issues Rare Statement of Regret
Text of Pope Benedict XVI's Remarks
Apologies Issued During John Paul Papacy
Mideast Christians in Uneasy Position
British Priest Returns to Pulpit at 100

Pope Issues Rare Statement of Regret
Sep 17, 7:40 PM (ET)


VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he is "deeply sorry" his remarks on Islam and violence offended Muslims, but the unusual expression of papal regret drew a mixed reaction from Islamic leaders as the Vatican worried about a backlash of violence.

Some Muslim leaders accepted the statement. Others said it wasn't enough, but urged Muslims to avoid violence after attacks on churches in Palestinian areas and the slaying of a nun in Somalia.

Benedict said he regretted causing offense with his speech last week in Germany, particularly his quoting of a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman" and referred to spreading Islam "by the sword."

He said those words did not reflect his own opinions.

"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," the pope said during his weekly Sunday appearance before pilgrims.

It was an unusual step for a leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, issued a number of apologies during his papacy, but they dealt with abuses and other missteps by the church in the past rather than errors on his own part.

Vatican officials had earlier sought to placate spreading Muslim anger by saying Benedict held Islam in high esteem and stressed that the central thrust of his speech was to condemn the use of any religious motivation for violence, whatever the religion.

While Benedict expressed regret his speech caused hurt, he did not retract what he said or say he was sorry he uttered what proved to be explosive words.

Anger was still intense in Muslim lands.

Two churches were set on fire in the West Bank, raising to at least seven the number of church attacks in Palestinian areas over the weekend blamed on outrage sparked by the speech.

There was also concern that the furor was behind the shooting death of an Italian missionary nun at the hospital where she worked for years in the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia. The killing came just hours after a Somali cleric condemned the pope's speech.

"Let's hope that it will be an isolated fact," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.

He said the Vatican was "following with concern the consequences of this wave of hate, hoping that it does not lead to grave consequences for the church in the world."

Police across Italy were ordered to step up security out of concern that the anger could cause Roman Catholic sites to become terrorist targets. Police outside the pope's summer palace confiscated metal-tipped umbrellas and bottles of liquids from faithful.

Benedict's expression of sorrow for the offense he caused satisfied some Islamic leaders.

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a banned group but still the largest Islamic movement in that country, said the outrage was justified but predicted it would subside quickly.

"Our relations with Christians should remain good, civilized and cooperative," Mohammed Mahdi Akef told The Associated Press in Cairo.

Germany's Central Council of Muslims welcomed the pope's comments Sunday as "the most important step to calm the protest" and urged the Vatican to seek discussion with Muslim representatives to avoid lasting damage.

But others were still demanding an apology for the words, including in Turkey, where questions have been raised about whether Benedict should go ahead with a visit scheduled for November as the first trip of his papacy to a Muslim nation.

"It is very saddening. The Islamic world is expecting an explanation from the pope himself," Turkish State Minister Mehmet Aydin told reporters in Istanbul. "You either have to say this 'I'm sorry' in a proper way or not say it at all. Are you sorry for saying such a thing or because of its consequences?"

Turkish Education Minister Huseyin Celik voiced similar concern. "It is different to be sorry and to apologize," he said.

Mohammad al-Nujemi, a professor at the Institute of Judicial and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, expressed dismay at what he called Benedict "evading apology."

"His statements might give terrorists and al-Qaida followers legitimacy that there is really an attempt to hurt Muslims," al-Nujemi told Al-Arabiya television.

In Damascus, Syria, lawmaker Mohammad Habash said the pope offered a "clarification and not (an) apology." But Habash also called for "calm and dialogue."

Hundreds of Iranians demonstrated against the pope in cities across Iran. In Qom, the religious capital of Iran's 70 million Shiite Muslims, hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami said the pope and President Bush were "united in order to repeat the Crusades."

The uproar is one of the biggest crises involving the Vatican in decades, and the Holy See has moved quickly in trying to defuse anger.

On Sunday, in an unusual step, the Vatican's press office rushed out translations in English and French of the pope's remarks. Typically, the Vatican doesn't translate the pope's Sunday remarks, which are delivered in Italian.

Both sides have much to gain by good relations. The Vatican and Muslims have shared stands in opposition of abortion. The Holy See, under Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, vigorously lobbied against the Iraq war, and Benedict made numerous appeals to Israel to use restraint in its recent military campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier urged world religious leaders to show "responsibility and restraint" to avoid what he called "extremes" in relations between faiths.


Associated Press writers Victor L. Simpson in Vatican City, Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo, Egypt, Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, Stephen Graham in Berlin, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna, Austria, contributed to this report.

Text of Pope Benedict XVI's Remarks
Sep 17, 6:55 AM (ET)

By The Associated Press

The official Vatican translation of Pope Benedict XVI's remarks, delivered in Italian Sunday about his Sept. 12 speech that sparked anger among Muslims.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The pastoral visit which I recently made to Bavaria was a deep spiritual experience, bringing together personal memories linked to places well known to me and pastoral initiatives towards an effective proclamation of the Gospel for today.

I thank God for the interior joy which he made possible, and I am also grateful to all those who worked hard for the success of this pastoral visit. As is the custom, I will speak more of this during next Wednesday's general audience.

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.

These in fact were a quotation from a Medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.

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.

Apologies Issued During John Paul Papacy
Sep 17, 5:36 PM (ET)

By The Associated Press

Some instances in which Pope John Paul II admitted errors or apologized for actions of the Roman Catholic Church:

- 1992: Declares the church was wrong to condemn astronomer Galileo for maintaining the earth is not the center of the universe.

- 1992: Visiting Senegal, begs for forgiveness for Christians who were involved in the slave trade.

- 1995: Issues document saying church is "truly sorry" for discrimination or mistreatment of women.

- 1995: During trip to Czech Republic, asks forgiveness for violence by Catholics against Protestants during 16th century Counterreformation.

- 1998: In document on Holocaust, expresses remorse for cowardice of some Christians during Nazi persecution of Jews.

- 1999: Denounces persecution of Jan Hus, 15th century religious reformer and precursor of Protestantism who was burned at stake.

- 2000: Asks forgiveness for sins of Catholics through the ages, including wrongs inflicted on Jews, women and minorities.

- 2000: In stop at Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, says Catholic Church "deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place."

- 2001: On visit to Greece, issues sweeping apology for wrongs committed by Roman Catholics against Orthodox Christians.

- 2001: Apologizes for missionary abuses against indigenous peoples of South Pacific.

Mideast Christians in Uneasy Position
Sep 17, 6:01 PM (ET)


CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Christians in the Middle East are growing uneasy over the widespread Muslim anger at Pope Benedict XVI, saying they increasingly worry about growing divisions between the two faiths.

The region's minority Christian communities generally live in peace with their Muslim neighbors, but their relations are often strained and the uproar over the pope has brought some violence - attacks on at least seven churches in the Palestinian territories over the weekend.

"I wish the Catholic pope had considered the reaction to his remarks," the head of the Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, told journalists Sunday.

"Being enthusiastic about one's religion shouldn't lead to judging other peoples' religions. "Criticizing others' faith breeds enmity and divisions."

The Greek Orthodox bishop of Homs in central Syria said that he was pleased that Benedict expressed regret Sunday for offending Muslims with comments last week about Islam and violence and that he hoped Muslim anger would recede.

"We hope that hearts will remain open between Muslims and Christians, and they will go on with the process of coexistence," Bishop Isidore Battikha said.

Two churches were set on fire in the West Bank on Sunday, a day after Muslims hurled firebombs and fired guns at four other West Bank churches and one in the Gaza Strip to protest the pope's comments.

Authorities in Lebanon, where Christians account for about 36 percent of the Arab country's population, tightened security outside churches as a precaution Sunday. They said there was no specific threat against Christians.

Police said security also was tight around churches and universities in Egypt, where Christians make up about 10 percent of the country's 73 million people.

Rafik Habib, an Egyptian sociologist and Coptic Christian, said the situation between the two faiths remains dangerous.

"This comes during an intense stage to harm the Muslim-Christian dialogue and emphasizes that there is some kind of Crusade (against Muslims) and animosity and complicates the relations between Muslims and Christians in our region," he said.

Christian leaders hoped the pope's expression of regret Sunday would calm tempers and were heartened that some Muslim leaders reacted positively to Benedict's statement.

The leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said the Islamic political movement's relations with Christians should remain "good, civilized and cooperative."

"While anger over the pope's remarks was necessary, it shouldn't last for long because while he is the head of the Catholic church in the world, many Europeans are not following it. So what he said won't influence them," Mohammed Mahdi Akef said.

Mohammed Habash, a legislator and head of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, Syria, cautioned against sectarian animosities and urged both Muslims and Christians to find ways to avoid conflicts.

"We understand the reasons for the (Muslim) anger, but we do not call for that and instead we call for calm and dialogue," Habash said.


Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Nasser Karimi in Qom, Iran, and Hamza Hendawi and Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report.

An elderly Iraqi Christian woman prays during a Sunday mass, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday Sept. 17, 2006. Iraq's biggest political parties on Sept.16, 2006, condemned comments by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam, with the main Sunni party warning confrontation with the Islamic world could lead to violence between Muslims and Christians. In the early 1980s, Iraq's Christian population numbered 1.4 million, but now many of them have left following Churches attacks in 2004 and regular threats by insurgents. (AP Pohto/Hadi Mizban)

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

British Priest Returns to Pulpit at 100
Sep 17, 6:52 PM (ET)

LONDON (AP) - Failing vision forced him to memorize part of the service, but a 100-year-old priest returned to the pulpit of the Church of England on Sunday and his efforts won a cheer from worshippers.

The Rev. Kingsley Laws officially retired in 1979 but jumped at the chance of preaching to his flock one last time at his local church in Wells, southwest England.

He just may have been the oldest priest to ever conduct a service in the Church of England, the church said.

Because of his vision problem, Laws had to memorize the Communion that he performed in front of a packed congregation at St. Thomas Church, and that won him a round of applause from appreciative worshippers.

After the Eucharist service the vicar said he had made a couple of mistakes but had enjoyed his return to the pulpit.

"The service is always changing a little bit and it's different from how I remember it, but I think I managed pretty well," he said. "I enjoyed it very much. It's a very friendly congregation and I've had a most wonderful week."

The guest performance by Laws, who was ordained at the age of 50 after retiring from a career as a colonial policeman in Kenya and Fiji, was praised by his colleague, the Rev. Denys Goodman - a comparatively young 82.

"It was inspirational, encouraging and very well received," Goodman said.
Tags: benedict xvi, cultural, ethical, interreligious, islam, middle east, papacy, regensburg, theological notebook

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