Pope Expresses Regret for Remarks

By REUTERS

New York Times

September 17, 2006

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict is sorry Muslims were offended by a speech on Islam that provoked fury around the world and led to calls for the leader of the Catholic church to apologize, an aide said on Saturday.

``The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers,'' said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in a statement.

The worst crisis since Benedict 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.

The backlash has cast doubt on a planned visit to Turkey by the German-born Pope in November. In an early reaction to the Vatican statement, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said it was not enough and they wanted ``a personal apology.''

``We feel he has committed a grave error against us and that this mistake will only be removed through a personal apology,'' the Brotherhood's deputy leader Mohammed Habib told Reuters.

The Pope's next scheduled public appearance is his Sunday Angelus blessing, when he often comments on current affairs.

Bertone, walking into the crisis only a day after taking over as ``deputy pope,'' said the 79-year-old Pope confirmed ``his respect and esteem for those who profess the Islamic faith'' and hoped his words would be understood ``in their true sense.''

The academic speech was meant as a ``a clear and radical rejection of religiously motivated violence, wherever it comes from,'' said the statement, which came as criticism of the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics swelled.

Yemen's president became the first head of state publicly to denounce him and two churches -- neither of them Catholic -- were fire-bombed in the West Bank, although no one was hurt.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German politicians defended his comments, saying he had been misunderstood.

``It was an invitation to dialogue between religions,'' she told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper in an interview.

CALLS FOR APOLOGY

The New York Times said in an editorial the Pope must issue a ``deep and persuasive'' apology for quotes used in his speech.

``The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly,'' it said.

In the speech, the Pope referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil ''such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.''

Using the terms ``jihad'' and ``holy war,'' the Pope said violence was ``incompatible with the nature of God.''

But Bertone said the Pontiff ``had absolutely no intention'' of presenting Emperor Manuel's opinions on Islam as his own.

Vatican insiders and diplomats say the Pope may have mixed up his new role with his former posts as a theologian and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he was known as a disciplinarian.

BACK TO CRUSADES

Angry Muslim leaders flung the supposed allegations of violence back in the face of the Christian West.

``How can (the Pope) imply that Muslims are the creators of terrorism in the world while it is the followers of Christianity who have aggressed against every country of the Islamic world?'' prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Odeh said. ''Who attacked Afghanistan and who invaded Iraq?''

In Libya, the General Instance of Religious Affairs said the ``insult ... pushes us back to the era of crusades against Muslims led by Western political and religious leaders.''

Turkish paper Vatan quoted a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party saying Benedict ``will go down in history in the same category as leaders like Hitler and Mussolini.''

Catholic bishops in Turkey feared the angry local reaction, led by the Grand Mufti, may demonstrate that due to its struggle to gain admission to the European Union, public opinion in Turkey was ``shifting against the Pope's planned visit.''

In Iraq, the government asked Muslims who felt offended not to take their anger out on the small Christian minority, after the door of a church in Basra was attacked overnight.