Pope Apologizes for Speech Offending Muslims

Michael Ireland | ASSIST News Service | Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pope Apologizes for Speech Offending Muslims

The Pope said he wanted to clarify the true meaning of his address amid unrest caused by his remarks

THE VATICAN (ANS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has apologized in person for causing offence to Muslims in a speech in Bavaria last week, which has led to attacks on churches and threats to the Vatican itself.

News sources around the world are carrying stories in which the Pope says the medieval text which he quoted "did not express in any way his personal opinion," adding the speech was an invitation to respectful dialogue.

However, Some Muslim leaders said his statement was sufficient to defuse the row, but others said it did not go far enough, the BBC reports.

The Pope's speech last week used a 14th Century Christian emperor's quote which said the Prophet Muhammad brought the world only evil and inhuman things. Since his speech in Gremany, the Pope has been under intense scrutiny amid angry reactions from throughout the Muslim world.

Reaction was mixed in Turkey, although Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the Pope's planned visit to the mainly Muslim country was still expected to go ahead in November. Turkey's most senior Muslim religious figure, Ali Bardakoglu, welcomed the Pope's statement, and described his respect for Islam as a "civilized position."

But State Minister Mehmet Aydin said the pontiff appeared to be saying he was sorry for the outrage but not necessarily the remarks themselves. "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?" he said.

The BBC says the Egyptian opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, welcomed what it called the Pope's "retraction," but later warned that it did not amount to a definitive apology and would not be enough to satisfy all Muslims.

In Germany, the Central Council of Muslims said the Pope had taken an important step towards calming the unrest of the past few days.

Pope Benedict XVI issued his apology from the balcony at his residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome as gave the Angelus blessing.

"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," he told pilgrims.

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

"I hope 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 mutual respect."

Hours before the Pope gave his apology, two churches in the West Bank were attacked with firebombs in what was believed to be a reaction to the Bavaria speech, the BBC said.

In the Somali capital Mogadishu, an Italian nun was shot dead by gunmen. The shooting may have been connected to strong criticism of the speech by a radical Somali cleric.

And in Iran, hundreds of people gathered at rallies in major cities. Conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami compared the pontiff to US President George W Bush, saying the two were "united in order to repeat the Crusades."

In his speech at Regensburg University on Tuesday, the German-born Pope quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire.

Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted the emperor saying: "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." He also said violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

Reactions to the speech came from such leaders as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who said efforts to link Islam and terrorism should be clearly opposed. Street protests were held in Pakistan, India, Turkey and Gaza.

Stephen Brown and Philip Pullella, reporting for the Reuters news agency said Pope Benedict tried on Sunday to calm Muslim anger at his remarks on Islam, saying he was "deeply sorry" about the reaction and that  mediaeval quotes he used on holy war did not reflect his personal views.

Reuters said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics "stopped short" of the full apology or retraction demanded by some Muslims for a speech they say portrayed Islam as tainted by violence. Some hardline Muslim groups said they were not satisfied.

"In Hamas we do not view the statement attributed to the Pope as an apology," said Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the militant group which controls the Palestinian government.

The deputy leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Habib, initially called it "a sufficient apology," but later said: "It does not rise to the level of a clear apology and, based on this, we're calling on the Pope of the Vatican to issue a clear apology that will decisively end any confusion."

Before the Pope spoke to clarify his views, there had already been a protest on Sunday in Iran and attacks on churches in the West Bank. In Somalia, an Italian nun was killed in an attack one Islamist source said may be linked to the crisis.

"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 told pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo summer residence, in the hills outside Rome.

"These in fact were a quotation from a mediaeval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," he said at his weekly Angelus prayer.

"I hope 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 mutual respect."

The German-born Pope was interrupted by applause from the pilgrims, but he faces the worst crisis since, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was elected Pope in April last year. His comments followed a Vatican statement on Saturday attempting to clarify the meaning of the academic speech made in Germany on Tuesday.

Reuters says the heads of Muslim countries have expressed dismay at what they see as offensive comments and religious leaders have called it the start of a new Christian crusade against Islam.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi hoped the death of a nun working at a Mogadishu children's hospital was "an isolated event." The order to which the nun belonged said there was no evidence to suspect it was related to the Pope crisis.

In the speech, the Pope, a former theology professor and so-called 'enforcer' of Vatican dogma, referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.

The emperor said everything the Prophet Mohammad brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and politicians in Italy rushed to Benedict's defense, saying he had been misunderstood and had really being making an appeal for dialogue, the Reuters agency said.

But angry Muslim leaders flung what they saw as allegations of violence back at the West, referring to the mediaeval crusades against Islam and to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have fanned the flames of Muslim resentment.

In Iran, about 500 theological school students protested in the holy city of Qom on Sunday and hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami warned that if the Pope did not apologize, "Muslims' outcry will continue until he fully regrets his remarks."

"The Pope should fall on his knees in front of a senior Muslim cleric and try to understand Islam," Khatami said.

One al Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura Council, threatened in an unauthenticated Internet statement to "break the cross and spill the wine" in revenge, referring to Christian symbols and sacraments.

Some Muslims, however, were mollified by the Pope's apology.

The head of Turkey's religious affairs directorate welcomed the statement from the Vatican on Saturday. Ali Bardakoglu had previously called the Pope's comments "extremely regrettable."

Reuters reports the uproar had raised questions about whether a papal visit to Turkey in November could go ahead, but the government, while calling his remarks "ugly," there were no plans to call it off.

The Muslim Council of Britain said the Pope's expression of regret was "exactly the reassurance many Muslims were looking for that, although he quoted them, he himself did not agree with the opinions of that Christian emperor." The Council "unequivocally condemned" those manipulating the controversy and hoped the nun's killers were brought to justice.

The two Reuters reporters explained that the Roman Catholic Church has officially encouraged dialogue with Islam and other non-Christian faiths since the Second Vatican Council that ended in 1965. Benedict has sought dialogue with Islam -- but he also stresses Europe's Christian roots and, before elected, said he opposed mainly Muslim Turkey joining the European Union.

The news agency commented: "He may have come closer than any modern-day pope to saying sorry in public for something he has said. His predecessor John Paul II made public apologies for the church's historic errors, such as the Inquisition and its failings in World War Two."

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

It reads: "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."

Two churches in the Palestinian town of Nablus were attacked with explosive devices as a sign of protest against the statement of Pope Benedict XVI on the Islam, said Europa Press, citing witnesses.

A group calling itself "The Lions for Monotheism" claimed responsibility for the attacks and stated they had committed them as a sign of protest against the statement of Pope Benedict, which was perceived as criticism of Islam. The blasts have left black marks on the walls and windows of the two churches – one catholic and one Anglican.

Palestinian security forces say sites in the West Bank were the object of anti-Christian attacks this morning, according to AFP (Agence France-Presse).

The agency reported: "For the time being there is no information how serious the material damage is and whether there are injured people. The attacks are believed to be a sign of anger against the statement of Pope Benedict XVI on the relation between violence and Islam."

Another agency highlighted Pope Benedict's speech at the Regensburg University on September 12 quoting what he conceded were "brusque" words about Islam.

Benedict cited a 14th Century Byzantine emperor as saying, "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 report says Benedict also used the word "jihad," or holy war, saying that violence was contrary to God's nature and to reason. But, at the end of a speech that did not otherwise mention Islam, he also said that reason could be the basis for "that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

The Pope's commentary was viewed by the Islamic countries as a direct attack against the foundations of their religion and triggered mass protests and anti-Christian demonstrations. As a result of the reactions the Vatican disseminated a communiqué in the name of Pope Benedict XVI in which he apologizes that the words he had used were misunderstood. However, many religious and political leaders did not accept the Pope's apology directly as some of them insist on public explanation.

In Istanbul, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the 200 million Orthodox Christians, is "deeply saddened by the tensions sparked by Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments over Islam, the Patriarchate said Saturday.

Bartholomew said world religions had to tread carefully to ensure not to hurt others' beliefs and called for greater dialogue and tolerance, a statement from the Istanbul-based Patriarchate said. The course which the relations between the Christian and Muslim faiths is taking...is deeply hurting the Patriarch" the statement said. "We have to show the determination and care not to hurt one another and avoid situations where we may hurt each others' beliefs. Dialogue is needed more than ever. That is why our course must a sincere dialogue based on tolerance" the Patriarchate said.

In Rabat, Morocco announced it would recall its Ambassador to the Vatican for consultations following the "offensive remarks" made by Pope Benedict earlier this week in Germany, AFP reported, citing a communiqué of the Moroccan Foreign Ministry.

From Cairo, the Egyptian movement 'Brother Muslims' demanded personal apologies from Pope Benedict XVI, who earlier on Saturday expressed regret for insulting Muslins and said his words were misinterpreted, Reuters informed, citing a statement of the Deputy Chairman of the Movement Mohammad Habib.

The Iraqi armed group "Jaish al Mujaheden" in Baghdad threatened with terrorist attacks Rome and the Vatican in response to the Pope's speech, AFP reported, citing an announcement, published by the group on the Internet.

Europa Press reported from Ankara that Turkey will not cancel the visit of Pope Benedict in the country, expected in November, despite the wave of discontent. This will be the first visit of Pope Benedict to the Muslim country.

In Damascus, Syria, the Khaleej Times, based in the United Arab Emirates, said Syrian Muslim and Christian clergy were pleased with pope apology.

Both Syrian Muslim and Christian clergymen expressed satisfaction on Sunday following the Pope's statement that he was ‘deeply sorry’ about the angry reaction sparked by his speech about Islam and holy war, sayingthe text did not reflect his personal opinion.

Mohammad Habash, a legislator and head of the Islamic Studies Center, said: "I am not happy to see a rift between Islam and Christians or between the West and the East...We have to avoid our countries and religions from entering these kinds of conflicts."

Habash said the Pope has submitted a "clarification and not an apology," but added: "It is our duty to call for calm and dialogue. We understand the reasons for (Muslim) anger, but we do not call for it and we call instead for calm and dialogue."

"The West should understand that freedom of opinion does not mean to insult others' religions."

Meanwhile, Isidore Battikha, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Homs in central Syria, said "that's what we were expecting from the Pope as the teachings of Jesus call for tolerance and moderation."

"We are pleased that he has corrected this mistake and we hope that hearts would remain open between Muslims and Christians and to go on with the process of coexistence," he added.

Earlier Sunday, the Joint Christian-Muslim Labour Committee urged Pope Benedict to apologize for remarks construed as anti-Islamic.

In a statement carried by Syria's official news agency SANA, the committee said the Pope should correct and plainly apologize for his speech which has hurt the feelings of Muslims worldwide.

The Labour Committee statement further called for self-restraint among Muslims, urging them not to fall into the "trap of ugly sectarianism and the rejected fanaticism."

The text of Pope's apology may be found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/5353774.stm

Excerpts from original speech may be found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/5348456.stm

© 2006 ASSIST News Service, used with permission