Friday, September 22, 2006

Why Benedict XVI Did not Want to Fall Silent or Backpedal

the latest from Sandro Magister.

The fact that Bertone is not a career diplomat, but a man of doctrine and a pastor of souls, is now being held even more against the pope as proof of his ineptitude on the world political scene. In Bavaria, with the assignment changes not yet having taken place, Benedict XVI was accompanied by the outgoing secretary of state, cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has spent his entire life in diplomacy. But the pope was careful to avoid having cardinal Sodano read in advance the lecture he was preparing to deliver in Regensburg. Whole sections of the text would have been censored, if its supreme criterion had been the Realpolitik upon which the Vatican diplomacy of Sodano and his colleagues is nourished.

For Benedict XVI, too, realism in relations between the Church and states is a value. It was so with the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century: with German Nazism as with Soviet Communism. The controversial silences of Pius XII with Nazism, and later, with Communism, of John XXIII, of Vatican Council II, and of the Ostpolitik of Paul VI, had compelling reasons, and in the first place the defense of the victims of those systems themselves. But now, it is being demanded of Benedict XVI that he maintain a similar silence in regard to the new adversary of Islam: it is a silence that is often given the name of “dialogue.” Has pope Ratzinger not respected this? Then this is the comeuppance he deserves from “offended” Islam: threats, demonstrations, burning in effigy, governments demanding retractions, the recall of ambassadors, churches burned, a religious sister killed. The pope is seen as bearing his part of the blame in all this. On the other hand, it’s “post mortem” beatification for his predecessor John Paul II, who prayed humbly in Assisi together Muslim mullahs, and when visiting the Umayyad mosque in Damascus listened in silence to the invectives his hosts hurled against the perfidious Jews. No fatwa was issued for the demolition of the Vatican walls, or for the slitting of Karol Wojtyla’s throat. It was a mere coincidence that Ali Agca, who shot him, was a Muslim – the assassination had been planned in Christian territory...

Benedict XVI does not deny the proper value of political realism. The secretariat of state has mobilized its network of nunciatures to provide for governments the complete text of the lecture in Regensburg, the official note of explanation released on September 16 by cardinal Bertone, and the explanations presented by the pope in person at the Angelus on Sunday the 17th. By the end of September, the ambassadors to Muslim-majority countries will be called to the Vatican for another effort to defuse the tensions. And the pontifical council for culture, headed by cardinal Paul Poupard, is preparing a meeting with Muslim religious representatives.

But realism isn’t everything for Benedict XVI. The dialogue with Islam that he wants to create is not made of fearful silences and ceremonial embraces. It is not made of mortifications which, in the Muslim camp, are interpreted as acts of submission. The citation he made in Regensburg, from the “Dialogues with a Mohammedan” written at the end of the fourteenth century by the Christian participant in the dialogue, the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos, was deliberate choice. A war was on. Constantinople was under siege, and in a half century, in 1453, it would fall under the dominion of the Ottoman Empire. But the learned Christian emperor brought his Persian counterpart to the terrain of truth, reason, law, and violence, to what marks the real difference between the Christian faith and Islam, to the key questions upon which war or peace between the two civilizations depends.

Pope Ratzinger sees modern times, too, as being fraught with war, and with holy war. But he asks Islam to place a limit of its own on “jihad.” He proposes to the Muslims that they separate violence from faith, as prescribed by the Qur’an itself, and that they again connect faith with reason, because “acting against reason is in contradiction with the nature of God.”


To be honest, I'm a bit tired of all the coverage and commentary. There are some Catholi netizens who advance the position that the pope wasn't tactful in citing the Byzantine emperor Manuel Paleologos. The Holy Father invited Muslim envoys for a meeting on Monday--apparently the meeting will be taking place, so at least some have accepted.

I don't know what exactly he expecting. Should the Holy Father be the spokesman for the Church and for Christ, and be at the forefront of dialogue? It would seem to go with his office. On the other hand, I am very doubtful that there can be any dialogue, so I wonder what the point would be, besides maintaining appearances and smoothing things over for the sake of Christians' safety.

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