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Vatican Apology Fails to Soothe Muslim Outrage

DW Staff/AFP (jen)September 16, 2006

A spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI Saturday apologized to Muslims for citing a controversial passage that appeared to link Islam to violence.

In London's Trafalgar Square, Muslims demonstrated against the popeImage: AP

The remarks, which Pope Benedict made in a speech in Germany on Tuesday, set off widespread outrage across the Muslim world. In the wake of the comments, leaders of the faith demanded apologies, Egypt and Morocco took diplomatic action, and Palestinian gunmen attacked churches.

Earlier Saturday, the head of the Roman Catholic Church said through a representative that his speech had been intended as a rejection of religiously-motivated violence from any side.

His Holiness regrets...

"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," Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in a statement.

Papstbesuch in Bayern
The pope could not have know at the beginning of his trip what outrage awaited him at the end. Here, his arrival in BavariaImage: AP

"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 ... quickly surmounting this present uneasy moment," Bertone said.

Benedict's worst crisis since he was elected in April 2005 was sparked by a speech in his native Germany on Tuesday that appeared to endorse a Christian view, contested by most Muslims, that early Muslims spread their religion by violence.

Critics say he appeared to have painted Islam in a violent light, particularly with reference to jihad or "holy war." In his speech, the pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine

emperor who said innovations introduced by the Prophet Mohammed were "evil and inhuman".

'Not an apology'

As is usually the case with texts of this kind, Benedict XVI prepared his address alone and did not show copies to advisors before he gave the speech.

Islamistische Demonstration gegen Papst Äußerungen in Indien
At a rally in Jammu, India, on Friday against the pope, Muslims shouted slogansImage: AP

Initial Muslim response to the apology was mixed. British Muslim groups welcomed the statement, although one group said it might not be "enough of an apology."

But Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood said Benedict XVI's statement, "did not constitute an apology."

"The Vatican secretary of state says that the pope is sorry because his statements had been badly interpreted, but there is no bad interpretation," Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, a senior official with the group, told AFP news service.

Diplomatic action

The first Christian leader to condemn the pope's comments was the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church. Coptic Pope Shenouda III was apparently unmoved by the Vatican's insistence that the Roman Catholic leader's words were misinterpreted.

Papst Benedikt in Deutschland Rede in Regensburg zu Islam
Pope Benedict XVI giving his speech in Regensburg, which set off sparks.Image: AP

Meanwhile, Egypt's Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican's envoy to Cairo on Saturday to express Egypt's "extreme regret" at the speech. Egyptian ambassador Wafa Bassim, who summoned the envoy on the instructions of the foreign minister, said the Pope must himself "move quickly to contain the situation."

And Morocco announced it was recalling its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations in the wake of the "offensive remarks."

Attacks on churches

After a day of protest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian gunmen responded to the Pope's comments by attacking churches.

Papst und Bertone
The pope with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal BertoneImage: AP

No one was hurt in a string of fire bombings and shootings that caused no major damage. Five churches came under attack in the West Bank city of Nablus, where militant groups have long been the dominating force.

Masked men, who local security officials said were undoubtedly Palestinian militants, hurled fire bombs at the Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches.

In a second wave of attacks several hours later, Palestinian assailants, this time unmasked, poured petrol outside the gates of the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Protestant churches, starting fires that were swiftly extinguished, witnesses said.

Appeal from the Vatican

The Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy appeared deeply concerned about the seriousness of the crisis the pope's remarks has sparked. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi referred to the current furor as a "difficult time."

For his part, Paul Poupard, the French cardinal in charge of inter-religious dialogue at the Vatican, called on Muslims to read the entire speech and not just the controversial extracts before judging Benedict XVI's words.