Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pope's message at Regensburg: all must reject religious motivations for violence

This September 18 column, "Did the Pope Apologize," from Father Jonathan Morris is excellent.

Contrary to many media reports, Pope Benedict XVI did not apologize on Sunday for his September 12 discourse at the University of Regensburg. He did not retract his words, and did not say he regretted his speech. Unless, of course, you consider an apology his expression of remorse that some misunderstood him, took offense, and reacted violently and irrationally, thus proving, ironically, the accuracy of his original thesis; that cultural dialogue is a pipedream unless all sides reject religiously-motivated violence.

I can understand the journalistic misread. Many surely think that Benedict, as a German intellectual, must be as hard to understand as Heidegger, Hegel, or Kant. Maybe they skipped the reading and took the easy road of juicy sound bites. But Benedict is no typical German intellectual. He's so smart, and his thought is so refined, that he can be simple, profound, and precise at the same time. What he says, in its full context, is what he means, and much to the consternation of those who would like to offer their altogether unique interpretation, there is no need for fancy hermeneutics.

After a year and a half of a low-key pontificate, Pope Benedict finds himself on center stage. He didn't mean to make a debut. That's not the way he is. Shy by nature and strong by faith, his meek demeanor reflects the kind of rare, humble soul that is most comfortable in absolute obscurity — but stands up nicely and fearlessly in the spotlight when the mission so demands.

Those who begged for a retraction from the pontiff for his supposed explosive words, including Muslim fundamentalists and the New York Times, don't know Pope Benedict. Perhaps they thought his academic discourse on the relationship between faith and reason, in which the example of Islamic fundamentalism was a small part, had been pieced together by an out-of-touch Vatican bureaucracy. Or more likely, perhaps they never read it.

Equally outlandish were the pundits who said Pope Benedict's "gaffe" should be overlooked as a well-intentioned public relations blunder committed by a pope still wet behind the ears. To my amazement, once-harsh critics of John Paul II now gushed with praise over the late pope's "spotless record of inter-religious dialogue" as they invited "Pope Ratzinger" (arguably John Paul II's closest friend and theological bosom buddy) to try to call up distant memories of his predecessor and learn from him a thing or two.

With so many examples of media hubris, some may have missed the irony of this weekend's violent protests. In the name of Islam, angry Muslims in the Middle East torched papal effigies and Christian churches. These were violent protests against anyone who would dare call them or their religion violent. The senselessness reached new heights when gunmen killed a Catholic nun with four bullets in the back of the head. It was a fitting "thank you" to a woman who was dedicating her life to the sick and dying in a hospital in Somalia. Her patients, of course, were mostly Muslim.


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