THE PAPAL â€˜GAFFEâ€™ WAS NO BLUNDER.
Rome - September 20
Pope Benedict XVIâ€™s latest spat with Islam justifies those critics who say he belongs into
medieval times not the 21st century.
No one today doubts the German Pope wants to maintain the status quo in the Catholic
Church: No innovations, no women priests, no married clergy, no contraception. Fair enough
that is his papal privilege. But it seems he also wants to perpetuate the millennium-long
prejudices of his church against Islam, reinforcing at a delicate moment the church-
inoculated Islamophobia of the Western world.
Why else would he cite during a lecture magistralis at the university of Regensburg an
obscure 14th century Byzantine Emperor who he quoted as having written: â€œShow me
just what Mohammed 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.â€�
This citation could have been acceptable had the Pope added: â€˜We Christians also
spread our faith by the sword, by the inquisition, by the crusades, by the forced mass
conversions of Moslems and Jews, the massacre of millions of Indios in Latin America. All this
we did in the name of our God and our religion. All this was also evil and inhuman.â€™
But then the Pope would have stepped on perilous ground. He would have to admit
these Christian crusades and pogroms violated the laws of Christianity. Worse, he would
have to confirm they were instigated, sanctioned and blessed by his predecessors (as they
were). And such an admission would call into question his and his predecessorsâ€™ â
€˜doctrine of infallibilityâ€™ â€“ the ridiculous claim Popes can never be wrong.
If one reads Benedict XVIâ€™s entire Regensburg lecture one can not find a valid
reason for including this particular offending citation. After all the theme of the lecture was
not Islam but the relationship between science and religion. The question then remains: Did
Pope Ratzinger insert this apparently superfluous quote - which has now become a rally call
for incensed Moslems - deliberately and read it out just one day after the world was treated
to yet another anniversary of September 11?
Finally there is the puzzle why the Pope should cite Emperor Manuel II, famous for his
loathing of Islam, an emperor virtually prisoner in his own palace in a Constantinople under
siege by the Ottoman empire, an emperor who saw his reign reduced by the steady
advance (and eventual conquest) of the Moslems. Can one expect a different assessment
from such a man about a religion that is making him poor and obsolete?
No one needs a Pope to remind them Islam has taken a more militant stand in recent
years, a stand mostly due to the Westâ€™s greed for control of Arab oil, the inertia of the
dispute over Palestine, the occupation of Arab lands and the Westâ€™s support of Israel
while pretending to be even-handed brokers in the dispute with the Arabs.
One more factor is now playing out. The majority of Middle East nations have
authoritarian governments with a privileged class dominating society and the economy. The
not-so-privileged see in the escalating power of the clergy an opportunity to be rid of these
regimes and participate in what they feel will be a more egalitarian society. The clergy exploit
this yearning for change using quips like those made by Benedict XVI to fuel the fire of
dissent and religious fervor.
The Popeâ€™s trite excuse, now voiced twice, his lecture was â€˜misunderstoodâ€™
and his real intentions were to promote dialogue with Islam may not save the Pontiff from his
own Curia in the Vatican - the bureaucracy that runs the Holy See â€“ which has no stomach
for gaffes or diplomatically embarrassing statements by its Holy Fathers. Ends