- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI “sincerely regrets” offending Muslims with his reference to an obscure medieval text that characterizes some teachings of Islam’s founder as “evil and inhuman,” the Vatican said yesterday.

Anger among Muslims remained intense. Palestinians yesterday attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the pope’s remarks Tuesday in a speech to university professors in his native Germany.

In a broader talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence, Benedict cited the words of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who characterized some teachings of Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”

Benedict didn’t endorse that description. But the pontiff’s words set off protests across the Muslim world.

The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope’s position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that says the church “esteems” Muslims.

Benedict “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,” Cardinal Bertone said.

He noted that earlier during his German trip, Benedict warned “secularized Western culture” against holding contempt for God and any religion or believers.

Cardinal Bertone said the pontiff sought in the speech to condemn religious motivation for violence, “from whatever side it may come.”

The Vatican’s statement seemed only to fan Muslim rage.

“We will not accept others to apologize on his behalf,” Mohammed Bishr, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said in Egypt.

Morocco yesterday recalled its ambassador to the Vatican to protest the pope’s “offensive” remarks, and Afghanistan’s parliament and Foreign Ministry demanded the pope apologize.

The grand sheik of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world’s most powerful institution, condemned the remarks as “reflecting ignorance.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose Southeast Asian nation has a large Muslim population, demanded that the pontiff retract his remarks and not “take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created.”

The Shi’ite Muslim militant group Hezbollah and Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim religious authority also denounced the comments.

Benedict’s first public appearance since his return from Germany was set for today, when he planned to greet the faithful at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence in the Alban Hills near Rome.

Security will be stepped up around the pope’s residence at Castel Gandolfo for his Sunday Angelus blessing, the Ansa news agency said.

It said “strengthened,” “intensified” and “meticulous” security checks would be applied discreetly in order “not to disturb the prayers.”

In the West Bank attacks on four churches, Palestinians used guns, firebombs and lighter fluid, leaving doors charred and walls scorched by flames and pocked with bullet holes. Nobody was reported injured.

Two of the churches hit were Catholic, one was Greek Orthodox and the other was Anglican. A Greek Orthodox church also was attacked in Gaza City.

A group calling itself Lions of Monotheism told the Associated Press by phone that the attacks were a protest of the pope’s remarks.

Turkey cast doubt on whether Benedict could proceed with a planned visit in November in what would be the pontiff’s first trip to a Muslim nation.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the pope apologize to Muslims, saying he had spoken “not like a man of religion, but like a usual politician.”

Asked if Muslim anger would affect the pope’s trip to Istanbul, where he hopes to meet with Orthodox leaders with headquarters there, Mr. Erdogan replied, “I wouldn’t know.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Orthodox Christians, issued a statement saying he was deeply saddened by the tensions.

“We have to show the determination and care not to hurt one another and avoid situations where we may hurt each others’ beliefs,” the Istanbul-based patriarchate said.

Benedict quoted Tuesday from a book recounting a conversation between Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

“The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,” the pope said. “He said, I quote, ‘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.’”

In a first reaction from a top Christian leader, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church criticized the pope.

“Any remarks, which offend Islam and Muslims, are against the teachings of Christ,” Coptic Pope Shenouda III told the pro-government newspaper Al-Ahram.

In India, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, president of the Indian Catholic Bishops Conference, said Christians there must face Muslim protests “with Christian courage and prayer because truth needs no other defense,” according to AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news agency.

British Muslims sought to calm tempers, praising the Vatican statement.

“We welcome his apology, and we hope now we can work together and build bridges. At the same time, we would condemn all forms of violent demonstration,” Muhammad Umar, chairman of Britain’s Ramadhan Foundation, a youth organization, told Sky News.

But Muhammad Abdul Bari, general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the pontiff needed to repudiate the views he quoted to restore relations with Muslims.

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