Breaking News Stories
These are news stories breaking after the publishing of this Word
– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
8: The Vatican demonstrating intolerance for the Muslims in Europe. Possibility
of the Pope speaking negatively toward the Muslim faith, its beliefs and the
Qur’an. He could conceivably call for a new "crusade" against Islam.
'A man with
little sympathy for other faiths'
Pope Benedict is being portrayed as a naive, shy scholar who has
accidentally antagonized two major world faiths in a matter of months.
In fact he is a shrewd and ruthless operator, argues Madeleine Bunting -
and he's dangerous
Only 18 months into his papacy and already Pope Benedict XVI has stirred
up unprecedented controversy. As the explanations and apologies pour out
of the Vatican - and thousands of Catholic churches around the world -
the questions about what exactly this man intended by quoting a
14th-century Byzantine emperor's insult of the Prophet Mohammed have
Some say this was a case of naivety, of a scholarly theologian stumbling
into the glare of a global media storm, blinking with surprise at the
outrage he had inadvertently triggered. The learned man's thoughtful
reasoning, say some, has been misconstrued and distorted by
troublemakers, and the context ignored.
But such explanations are unconvincing. This is a man who has been at
the heart of one of the world's multinational institutions for a very
long time. He has been privy to how pontifical messages get distorted
and magnified by a global media. Shy he may be, but no one has ever
before accused this pope of being a remote theologian sitting in an
ivory tower. On the contrary, he is a determined, shrewd operator whose
track record indicates a man who is not remotely afraid of controversy.
He has long been famous for his bruising, ruthless condemnation of those
he disagrees with. Senior Catholic theologians such as the German Hans
Kung are well familiar with the sharpness of his judgments.
But in the 18 months since Benedict was elected, the wary critics who
have always feared this man were lulled into believing that office might
have softened his abrasive edges. His encyclical on love won widespread
acclaim and the pronouncement on homosexuality being incompatible with
the priesthood (and its inference that homosexuals were to blame for the
child sex abuse problems in the church) were explained away as an
inheritance from Pope John Paul II's reign.
But while the Pope has tried to build a more appealing public image,
what has become increasingly clear is that this is a man with little
sympathy or imagination for other religious faiths. Famously, the then
Cardinal Ratzinger once referred to Buddhism as a form of masturbation
for the mind - a remark still repeated among deeply offended Buddhists
more than a decade after he said it. Even his apology at the weekend
managed to bring Jews into the row.
In fact, Pope Benedict XVI's short papacy has marked a significant
departure from the previous pope's stance on interreligious dialogue.
John Paul II made some dramatic gestures to rally world religious
leaders, the most famous being a gathering in Assisi of every world
faith, even African animists, to pray for world peace. He felt keenly
the terrible history of Catholic-Jewish relations, and having fought
with the Polish resistance to save Jews in the second world war, John
Paul II made unprecedented efforts to begin to heal centuries of
hostility and indifference on the part of the Catholic church to
Europe's Jews. John Paul II also addressed himself to the ancient enmity
between Muslims and Catholics; he apologized for the Crusades and was
the first Pope to visit a mosque during a visit to Syria in 2001.
In contrast, Pope Benedict has managed to antagonize two major world
faiths within a few months. The current anger of Muslims is comparable
to the anger and disappointment felt by Jews after his visit to
Auschwitz in May. He gave a long address at the site of the former
concentration camp and failed to mention anti-Semitism, and offered no
apology - whether on behalf of his own country, Germany, or on behalf of
the Catholic Church. He acknowledged he was a "son of the German people"
... "but not guilty on that account"; he then launched into a highly
controversial claim that a "ring of criminals" were responsible for
nazism and that the German people were as much their victims as anyone
else. This is an argument that has long been discredited in Germany as
utterly inadequate in explaining how millions supported the Nazis. Given
his own involvement in the Hitler Youth movement as a boy, and his
refusal to make a clean breast of the Vatican's acquiescence in the
horrors of Nazism by opening its archives to historians, this was a
shabby moment in Catholic history. Not for this pope those dramatic,
epoch-defining gestures that made the last Pope such a significant
Even worse, in his Auschwitz address, he managed to argue in a long
theological exposition that the real victims of the Holocaust were God
and Christianity. As one commentator put it, he managed to claim that
Jews were the "themselves bit players - bystanders at their own
extermination. The true victim was a metaphysical one." This theological
treatise bears the same characteristics as last week's Regensburg
lecture; put at its most charitable, they are too clever by half. More
plainly speaking, they indicate a deep arrogance rooted in a blinkered
Catholic triumphalism which is utterly out of place in the 21st century.
But if his visit to Auschwitz disappointed many and failed to resolve
outstanding resentments about the murky role of German Catholicism, this
latest incident seems even worse. Quoting Byzantine emperor Manuel II
Paleologos, he said: "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." It was a
gratuitous reawakening of the most entrenched and self-serving of
western prejudices - that Muslims have a unique proclivity to violence,
a claim that has no basis in history or in current world events (a fact
that still eludes too many westerners). Even more bewildering is the
fact that his choice of quotation from Manuel II Paleologos, the
14th-century Byzantine emperor, was so insulting of the Prophet. Even
the most cursory knowledge of dialogue with Islam teaches - and as a
Vatican Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI would have learned this long ago -
that reverence for the Prophet is a non-negotiable. What unites all
Muslims is a passionate devotion and commitment to protecting the honour
of Muhammad. Given the scale of the offence, the carefully worded
apology, actually, gives little ground; he recognizes that Muslims have
been offended and that he was only quoting, but there is no regret at
using such an inappropriate comment or the deep historic resonances it
By an uncanny coincidence the legendary Italian journalist Oriana
Fallaci died last week. No one connected the two events, but the Pope
had already run into controversy in Italy by inviting the rabid
Islamophobe to a private audience just months ago. This is the
journalist who published a bestseller in 2001 which amounted to a
diatribe of invective against Islam. This is the woman who was only too
happy to fling out comments such as "Muslims breed like rats" and "the
increasing presence of Muslims in Italy and Europe is directly
proportional to our loss of freedom." At the time of her papal audience,
Fallaci's ranting against Islam had landed her in court and there was
outrage at the Pope's insensitive invitation. The Pope refused to
backtrack and insisted the meeting was purely "pastoral".
Put last week's lecture in Bavaria and the Fallaci audience alongside
his vocal opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, and the picture
isn't pretty. On one of the biggest and most volatile issues of our day
- the perceived clash between the west and the Muslim world - the Pope
seems to have abdicated his papal role of arbitrator, and taken up the
arms in a rerun of a medieval fantasy.
An elderly Catholic nun has already been killed in Somalia, perhaps in
retaliation for the Pope's remarks; churches have been attacked in the
West Bank. How is this papal stupidity going to play out in countries
such as Nigeria, where the tensions between Catholics and Muslims
frequently flare into riots and death? Or other countries such as
Pakistan, where tiny Catholic communities are already beleaguered? Or
the Muslim minorities in Catholic countries such as the Philippines -
how comfortable do they feel this week?
Two lines of thought emerge from this mess. The first is that the Pope's
personal authority has been irrevocably damaged; how now could he ever
present himself as a figure of global moral authority and a peacemaker
after this? At the weekend, a message was read out from Cardinal Murphy
O'Connor at all masses in Catholic churches in England; he spoke of the
regret at any offence caused and urged good relations between Catholics
and Muslims. For a church that prides itself on taking centuries to
respond, this was unprecedented crisis management. It cannot but damage
the pope's authority with the faithful that such emergency measures were
necessary, and it compromises not just this pope but the papal office
itself. (This is a job, after all, that is supposed to be divinely
guided and at all times beyond reproach: a claim that looks a bit
threadbare after the past few days.)
The second is a more disturbing possibility: namely, that the Catholic
church could be failing - yet again - to deal with the challenge of
modernity. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it struggled to adapt to an
increasingly educated and questioning faithful; now, in the 21st
century, it is in danger of failing the great challenge of how we forge
new ways of accommodating difference in a crowded, mobile world. The
Catholic church has to make a dramatic break with its triumphalist,
bigoted past if it is to contribute in any constructive way to chart
this new course. John Paul II made some dramatic steps in this
direction; but the fear now is that Pope Benedict XVI has no intention
of following suit, and that he has another direction altogether in mind.
More from Pope Benedict
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a
sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic
moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective
disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be
directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to
believe that the living-out of this orientation in homosexual activity
is a morally acceptable option. It is not."
The ordination of women
On the excommunication of seven women who called themselves priests:
"... the penalty imposed is not only just, but also necessary, in order
to protect true doctrine, to safeguard the communion and unity of the
church, and to guide consciences of the faithful."
On same-sex marriage
"Call[s] into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure
of mother and father, and make[s] homosexuality and heterosexuality
virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality."
On rock music
"[A] vehicle of anti-religion"; "the complete antithesis of the
Christian faith in the redemption."
"[A] more dangerous threat than weapons of mass destruction."