Outburst from Vatican Fans Flames of Hatred; ANALYSIS

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 18, 2006 | Go to article overview

Outburst from Vatican Fans Flames of Hatred; ANALYSIS


Byline: WILLIAM DALYRYMPLE

THE VATICAN seems to have been infected by the current fashionable hostility towards Islam.

Pope Benedict, it is true, has apologised for quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's remark that the prophet Mohammed had brought the world only "evil and inhuman things".

Nevertheless, the apology would be more convincing if the Pope did not have a long and lamentable track record of Islamophobia. Two years ago, when still Cardinal Ratzinger, he gave a deeply illiberal interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro in which he announced that an Islamic country like Turkey should never be admitted to the EU. He went on to add that Europe's pure Christian identity must at all costs be protected from the supposed dangers of Muslim influence.

It is true that these remarks came in the context of the Cardinal's deeply illiberal views about almost all other faiths, including a remark that the Church of England was not a Church "in the proper sense". Nevertheless, at this extremely sensitive moment in the history of relations between Islam and Christianity, one might have thought that the Pope should have been busy pointing out the many commonalities of the two religions, rather than stoking the flames of mutual distrust. After all, in an increasingly secular Europe, Islam has successfully preserved the same traditional ethical and religious values associated with Roman Catholicism: an emphasis on the family, chastity before marriage, opposition to abortion and homosexuality, respect for elders and weekly attendance at religious services, as well as sitting down to various important religious feasts.

Pope Benedict's remarks are just the latest round in the deeply troubled history of the Vatican's relations with other faiths.

Under Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church finally confronted its demons vis-a-vis Judaism. Sadly, under the current Pope, there appears to be no similar change of heart over the Church's relations with Islam.

It was, after all, a Pope - Urban II - who in 1095 had the bright idea of calling the first Crusade. This was itself a development of the earlier doctrine of Holy War initiated by Pope Alexander II, who promised an indulgence from purgatory for all who fought the Moors in Spain.

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Outburst from Vatican Fans Flames of Hatred; ANALYSIS
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