- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI yesterday said he was “deeply sorry” Muslims had been offended by his use of a medieval quotation on Islam and violence, but failed to quell the fury of some Islamic groups demanding a full apology.

The head of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, whose Tuesday comments sparked worldwide Muslim anger because they were seen as portraying Islam as a religion tainted by violence, said the quotation did not represent his personal views.

“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 Castel Gandolfo summer residence.

The 79-year-old pontiff spoke after a Vatican statement on Saturday attempted to clarify the meaning of the academic speech he made in Germany on Tuesday.

Before the pope spoke and mollified some Muslims, there were attacks on churches in the West Bank and a protest in Iran. In Somalia, an Italian nun, Sister Leonella, was killed in an attack one Islamist source said could be linked to the dispute.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi hoped the death of the nun working at a Mogadishu children’s hospital was “an isolated event.”

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

Benedict’s apology was rejected by some Muslims.

“In Hamas, we do not view the statement attributed to the pope as an apology,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the militant group that controls the Palestinian government.

The main opposition force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially said the pope made a “sufficient apology.” But deputy leader Mohammed Habib said later: “It does not rise to the level of a clear apology and … we’re calling on the pope to issue a clear apology that will decisively end any confusion.”

In his weekly Angelus prayer yesterday, the 79-year-old pope said his remarks last week “in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.” He said that he hoped “to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning” of the address he delivered Tuesday at an academic conference in Germany, which he said “in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect.”

His remarks yesterday were interrupted by applause from the pilgrims at Castel Gandolfo, in the hills outside Rome.

In the speech, the pope, a former theology professor and enforcer of Vatican dogma, referred to criticism of the prophet Mohammed by 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.

The emperor said everything the prophet Mohammed brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The heads of Muslim countries had expressed dismay at what they saw as an offensive comment, and religious leaders had called it the start of a new Christian crusade against Islam.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and politicians in Italy rushed to Benedict’s defense, saying he had been misunderstood and had really been making an appeal for dialogue.

But angry Muslim leaders flung accusations of violence back at the West, referring to the medieval Crusades 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 city of Qom, and hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami said that if the pope did not apologize, “Muslims’ outcry will continue until he fully regrets his remarks.”

Some Muslims welcomed the pope’s apology.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was “exactly the reassurance many Muslims were looking for.”

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.”

Questions had been raised on whether a papal visit to Turkey in November could go ahead, but the government, while calling his remarks “ugly,” said there were no plans to call it off.

The Catholic Church has officially encouraged dialogue with Islam and other non-Christian faiths since the Second Vatican Council, which 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.

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