Australia's moderate Muslims a sign of hope, Pell says

While criticising the response of some Australian Muslim leaders to Pope Benedict's controversial speech at Germany's Regensburg University last week, Sydney's Cardinal George Pell says that it is "a sign of hope" no organised violence has flared in Australia.

In a statement released by Cardinal Pell yesterday, he says comments from some Muslim leaders have been "unhelpful" and unbalanced, adding that the violent reactions in many parts of the Islamic world against the Pope's speech justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears.

"They showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence," he said.

Cardinal Pell said that Muslim leaders are ignoring real concerns about the fundamental nature of Islam, referring to reactions from some Muslim leaders in Australia.

"Sheik al-Hilali often responds to criticism by questioning the intelligence and competence of the questioner or critic," the Cardinal said, referring to comments from the Mufti of Australia.

Cardinal Pell also lashed out at the published reply of Dr Ameer Aliv from the Government's Muslim advisory committee who compared Pope Benedict to Pope Urban II, who called the First Crusade.

"In fact the Pope's long speech was more about the weaknesses of the Western world, its irreligion and disdain for religion and he explicitly rejected linking religion and violence. He won't be calling any crusade," Cardinal Pell said.

"Friends of Islam in Australia have genuine questions, which need to be addressed, not regularly avoided. We are grateful for those moderate Muslims who have spoken publicly," he concluded.

The Pope wrote the speech himself

In other comments, new Canberra Archbishop Mark Coleridge who worked as a papal speechwriter under John Paul II, told The Age that he is convinced that Pope Benedict wrote every word of the speech himself.

Archbishop Coleridge is just as certain, Age religion writer Barney Zwartz says, that the Pope's speech did not go through the usual complex vetting process in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, intended to pick up any problems.

"It takes a long time to write a papal speech, with draft after draft being seen by various eyes until it reaches the Pope himself, and he has to own it. That process is based on long and bitter experience of misfortune," Archbishop Coleridge told the paper.

"This speech was anything but crude polemics. As a theological discussion it was beautifully done. But he didn't seem to be aware of the potential pitfalls. That's because he's new to the role, which is unique - a Pope can never speak just as a theologian."

Archbishop's Coleridge's analysis was also backed by Townsville Bishop Michael Putney, chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference interfaith committee, who also believes the speech was all the Pope's own work.

"I think he thought it was in his old territory, but clearly as Pope he's in everybody's front room, no matter where he speaks or what style."

Also in Queensland, Brisbane's Archbishop John Bathersby says he has been saddened by the reaction to a speech by Benedict XVI.

The ABC reports that Archbishop Bathersby says he hopes the uproar does not damage the relationship with Queensland's Islamic community.

"I'm saddened by it certainly, we've got very good relations here with the Islamic community," he said.

"I'd be saddened if I felt this would lead to a separation between the relationships that have been built up."

International responses

Meanwhile, protests continue in Islamic countries even though the Pontiff said on Sunday he was "deeply sorry" that Muslims had been offended by his use of a medieval quotation on Islam and jihad.

Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq have vowed war on "worshippers of the cross" and protesters burned a papal effigy over Pope Benedict's comments, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Still in the Middle East, where attacks on an ancient church in the Gaza Strip following the Pope's comments have shaken the area's tiny Christian minority, Jerusalem Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, who travelled to the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday said he wished the Pope had used different language.

"Making this remark was hurtful to Islam and to the Prophet. I wish he had not said it but he did," the Patriarch told a crowd of about 250 Muslims and Christians in a damaged Catholic church, according to a Mainichi Daily News report.

Despite the current tension, in a positive development, AsiaNews quotes the bishops of Turkey who yesterday followed Ankara's Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdullah Gul, in confirming that the visit of Benedict XVI will take place as planned, from 28 November to 1 December, according to the set itinerary.

Further clarification from the Holy See

At the Vatican, new Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone expanded earlier comments.

"The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that expressed by the conciliar document Nostra Aetate" he said, quoting the document as saying "the Church regards with esteem also the Muslims."

"The Holy Father 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," the Cardinal said.

"Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervour of Muslim believers, warned secularised Western culture to guard against 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom'".

The Pope now risks offending Jews

But as the Vatican tries to calm Muslim passions, in Israel, Pope Benedict's latest citation of a passage from St Paul that described the crucifixion of Jesus as a "scandal for the Jews" is also raising questions.

The Age reports that a Jewish commentator said: "It does seem strange to come up with that particular quote at this particular time."

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, member of the Council of Christians and Jews, which was set up to oppose prejudice, said: "He's really talking about veneration, not about the Jews. We can't alter the sayings of the past.

"But we can be careful about how we use them, especially in view of the religious offence that can be taken, even if never intended."

Cardinal George Pell (Media Release, 18/9/06)
Lost in translation (The Age, 19/9/06)
Pope's Islam comments sadden Archbishop (ABC Online News, 18/9/06)
Pope's Islamic stumble baffles the experts (Eureka Street, 19/9/06)
Turkish bishops confirm trip of Benedict XVI will go ahead (Asia News, 18/09/06)
Gaza's tiny Christian community fears it will disappear (Mainichi Daily News, 18/9/06)
Pope's remarks on Jews risk ire (The Age, 19/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Provisional text of Pope's speech at University of Regensburg, Faith, Reason and the University, Memories and Reflections (Radio Vaticana, 13/9/06)

Benedict "deeply sorry" for Muslim outrage but violence continues (CathNews, 18/9/09)
Benedict tells priests to serve Christ and be His voice (CathNews, 15/9/06)
Religious violence contrary to God's nature, Pope says (CathNews, 14/9/06)
No chance of world without reason, says Benedict (CathNews, 13/9/06)
Benedict says learn Gospel from Africa and Asia (CathNews, 11/9/06)
Benedict heads home to Bavaria, Germany (CathNews, 8/9/06)

19 Sep 2006