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06VATICAN201 2006-09-20 16:41:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vatican
Cable title:  

POPE AGAIN TRIES TO CALM STORM

Tags:   PREL VT KIRF PTER PHUM 
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1. (C) In his weekly audience September 20, Pope Benedict
again sought to defuse tensions stemming from his September 12
remarks on Islam at the University of Regensburg. He emphasized
that the controversy stemmed from a "misunderstanding" and again
disassociated himself from the offending quotation. He went on
to note his "profound respect for world religions and for
Muslims, who worship the one God and with whom we promote peace,
liberty, social justice and moral values for the benefit of all
humanity." There is talk among diplomats and inter-religious
dialogue activists that the pope might strike the offending
quotation from the final version of his Regensburg speech, but
this is unlikely. Catholic inter-religious dialogue experts
have been critical of the pope, and have received wide play in
Vatican-based media. One told us privately he thought the
incident would set inter-faith efforts with Muslims back 10-15
years. Others in the Vatican have been much more supportive of
the pope and see no need for any further papal apology (septel).
Benedict's words September 20 may not wholly calm the storm,
but indications are that the Vatican will not go much further.
End Summary.



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Weekly Audience



--------------------------





2. (U) In his weekly audience September 20, Pope Benedict
again sought to defuse tensions stemming from his September 12
remarks on Islam at the University of Regensburg. He said today
that in his talk he had included a quotation on the relationship
between religion and violence that "unfortunately, lent itself
to possible misunderstanding." Benedict stressed: "In no way
did I wish to make my own the words of the medieval emperor. I
wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion
and reason, go together. I hope that my profound respect for
world religions and for Muslims, who `worship the one God' and
with whom we `promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral
values for the benefit of all humanity' is clear. The
quotations within Benedict's speech are drawn from a Vatican
document on religious freedom and inter-religious issues.



--------------------------



Another Solution?



--------------------------







3. (C) Meanwhile, there was talk among diplomats and
inter-religious dialogue activists of the pope striking the
offending quotation from the final version of his Regensburg
speech. The Vatican had circulated a text with a heading
indicating that it was provisional. Contacts here in the
inter-religious dialogue and diplomatic communities have told us
that this step would go a long way towards soothing Muslim anger
on the issue. The Egyptian ambassador to the Holy See, for one,
has been pushing this solution. But our Vatican contacts tell
us that this is an unlikely scenario. The pope has already
apologized and made significant gestures of reconciliation, an
official in the Secretariat of State told us. He didn't see the
pope changing his text over what he saw as essentially a
misunderstanding.





--------------------------



Inter-religious Dialogue Experts Weigh In



--------------------------







4. (U) Interested parties continued to weigh in on the issue,
most notably Catholic experts on inter-religious dialogue. Most
were highly critical of the pontiff. Fr. Daniel Madigan of the
Pontifical Gregorian University described Pope Benedict's
inclusion of the medieval text in his lecture as "puzzling," and
said there had been no need for the pope to use the quote to

VATICAN 00000201 002.3 OF 002


illustrate his lecture. Madigan, who acts as an advisor to the
Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, said that in
the Regensburg address, Pope Benedict did not engage with
Muslims, but with a version of Islam enunciated by a Christian
locked in battle with them. He was not surprised that conflict
resulted.





5. (U) Vatican-based media reported that Georgetown
University's John Borelli, a former inter-religious affairs
specialist at the U.S. Bishops Conference, said the pope blurred
the line "between narration and accusation" in using the
quotation. He saw no worth in citing an insult such as those
that Christians and Muslims have traded for centuries, even if
the pontiff was just using it for effect. However, on a
positive note, Borelli said situations like those caused by the
pope's remarks were also opportunities to renew efforts to
promote dialogue and understanding, "and move forward with
greater trust, hope and cooperation."





6. (U) Fr. Tom Michel, a former Vatican official now working at
the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, lamented the "banishment" of
the Vatican's former inter-religious dialogue chief, Archbishop
Michael Fitzgerald, to the nunciature in Cairo, and claimed that
there was no one in the Vatican bureaucracy "trained in Islamic
faith, practice and tradition." Michel said that the fact that
the pope did not intend to offend Muslims is beside the point;
offense is often caused by ignorance or a lack of sensitivity.
He suggested that the pope should apologize for his remarks and
not just regret the reaction they provoked.





7. (C) Claudio Betti, a representative of the Community of
Sant'Egidio (long active in inter-faith dialogue), told us his
Muslim contacts were angry. "This incident will set us back
10-15 years," he speculated. Betti thought much of the Muslim
reaction was irrational, and noted that the violent responses
tended to lend credence to the very point Muslims resented. He
also noted that some Muslim leaders were simply piggy-backing on
the responses of others, trying to outdo each other in
responding on the issue. But the reality of today's
media-driven world and heightened sensitivities, he said,
dictated that religious leaders and others had to watch their
words carefully.





--------------------------



Comment



--------------------------







8. (C) We had surmised - and then heard from Vatican contacts
- that the pope's text did not pass through the usual vetting
channels at the Vatican. Giving what amounted to an academic
speech in his native language at his former university, the pope
was (as one Vatican contact told us) in his "comfort zone" -- he
didn't see the need to get feedback on the speech. This
official suggested that the pope wouldn't have changed his
message, but would have lifted the quotation if someone had
given him any hint of the outrage it would provoke.





9. (C) With his Wednesday address, the pope again
disassociated himself from the 14th century quotation and
emphasized common ground with Muslims and Islam. This may not
wholly calm the storm, but indications from the Vatican are that
Pope Benedict will not go any further. While Catholic
inter-religious activists such as those quoted above have been
critical of the pope, they were not often his biggest backers in
any case. More conservative Catholics, including officials
within the Vatican, have been more supportive of Benedict in the
aftermath of the controversial speech, and would be loath to see
a more formal papal apology (septel).
SANDROLINI