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Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Common Enemy

Pope remarks reveal harder stance
By Peter Gould and Sarah Rainsford, BBC News website

The Pope has said he deeply regrets any offence causedThe furore over the Pope's remarks about Islam has left many Catholics inside and outside the Vatican shaking their heads in disbelief.

While his aides believe he was quoted out of context, for others, the growing row has highlighted their concerns about the Pope's attitude towards the Church's relations with the Islamic world.

Growing Muslim anger has been directed at the Pope due to his speech at Regensburg University in Germany on Tuesday. The German-born Pope quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.

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."

This has led many to suggest that Pope Benedict should self-criticise Christianity's violent Crusader past before commenting on other faiths.

The Vatican's attitude towards Islam has changed since Pope John Paul II died.

John Paul II wanted to reach out to other religions and in 2001, on a visit to Syria, he became the first pope to set foot in a mosque.

It was a gesture intended to help end centuries of hostility and suspicion between the two religions.

A Change of Heart

Archbishop Fitzgerald: a highly-respected scholarOne of the first signs of a toughening of the Vatican's stance after his death came with the removal from office of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald.

The British-born cleric ran a Vatican department that promoted dialogue with other religions. A distinguished scholar on Arab affairs, he was an acknowledged expert on the Islamic world.

The decision by Benedict XVI to remove him from his post, and send him to Egypt as papal nuncio, was widely seen as a demotion.

Some wondered about the wisdom of the move.

Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit scholar and an authority on the workings of the Vatican, told the BBC news website of his concerns: "The Pope's worst decision so far has been the exiling of Archbishop Fitzgerald," he said in an interview in April this year.

"He was the smartest guy in the Vatican on relations with Muslims. You don't exile someone like that, you listen to them.

"If the Vatican says something dumb about Muslims, people will die in parts of Africa and churches will be burned in Indonesia, let alone what happens in the Middle East.

"It would be better for Pope Benedict to have Fitzgerald close to him."


Protesters display banner in Ankara, Turkey The Pope is due to visit Turkey in November and the Turkish response was swift and strong, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Istanbul.

Religious leader Ali Bardakoğlu said the Pope's comments represented what he called an "abhorrent, hostile and prejudiced point of view".

Whilst Muslims might express their criticism of Islam and of Christianity, he argued, they would never defame the Holy Bible or Jesus Christ.

He said he hoped the Pope's speech did not reflect "hatred in his heart" against Islam.

Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkey's ruling political party stated, "He seems to have a mindset that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world. It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades."

Many Turks see Benedict as a Turkophobe and commentators call his words just before the holy month of Ramadan "ill-timed and ill-conceived".

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the comments had been "ugly and unfortunate" and when asked if the Pope's trip would go ahead, he said: "I wouldn't know."

Security has been tightened in Rome ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's first public appearance since making comments deemed offensive by many Muslims.

Pictures courtesy of BBC News online.

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