On Tuesday the Pope visited Regensburg University to speak to an audience of academics, intellectuals, and theologians. Some of what he said, notably a citation from a conversation between a 14th century Byzantine Emperor and a Persian sage, has made some people very angry, especially German muslims who, until now, have been optimistic about the Ratzinger papacy. The Emperor is supposed to have said this; “So show me what Mohammed has taught us that’s new. You’ll only find inhumanity and evil, like the duty to spread their faith with the sword”. Benedict the 16th chose his native Bavaria to make this highly technical, dense, and theological dissertation. A counterblast against what he called a West “gutted of its christian faith and unable to dialogue with other cultures”…while Islam grew in confidence.
This has offended many muslims, so the Vatican has had to do some damage limitation via an official statement; “It was certainly not the intention of the Holy father to undertake a comprehensive study of the Jihad and of Muslim ideas of the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful. Quite the contrary, what emerges clearly from the Holy father’s discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom’”.
However the Pope is a head of state as well as spiritual leader, so the speech may have consequences for Vatican diplomacy as well. With an upcoming visit to Turkey, here is Friday’s reaction from Turkey’s religious affairs head Ali Bardaloglu: “I don’t believe any benefit will come from a visit of a person who thinks about Islam, Islam’s sacred tenets, and its prophet like that”. The November visit will be this Pope’s first visit to a muslim country, if he makes it.