Benedict XVI: Regensburg remarks arrogant & inexcusable, and his "non-apology" ill-advised Print E-mail
 September 21, 2006

Commentary: Pope should apologize

 

Frank Kaufmann

WASHINGTON --  The problem arising from Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg speech is deeply serious, perhaps far more than people grasp on the face of what we know through the news.

The present situation is this:

The academic address of The Holy Father Benedict XVI to the faculty at his alma mater in Regensburg is tragic beyond measure. It represents an unconscionable provocation of religious tensions in a world already blistering under the scourge of religious division.

Muslim rage against this speech is intuitive, technically misdirected, and self-defeating.

The non-apology of the Holy Father is ill-advised and makes matters worse.

While begging for calm in all quarters of the Muslim world, this writer stands firmly on the side of those who condemn the remarks of the Pontiff, and with even greater ire decry the folly behind deciding to issue a condescending non-apology ("The Holy Father is extremely sorry that certain passages of his speech appeared offensive to Muslim believers and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond in any way to his intentions." An apology goes like this: "I am sorry for what I said. I should not have done that and I will not do that again." An apology is NOT "I am sorry that you do not know how to read.")

A misunderstanding? The Vatican itself, as well as a number of careful readers, most notably Melanie McDonagh of the London Daily Telegraph recommend that Muslims have misinterpreted the remarks of HH Benedict XVI. The non-apology of His Holiness also implies that he has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, his remarks taken out of context.

This is true but irrelevant.

Why irrelevant?

1. In the current world environment there is absolutely NO valid reason for "any" public person to introduce so repulsive a quote about "any" world religion, other than to use the quote as an example of something abhorrent and unconscionable as a point of view. His Holiness does no such thing. There is nothing in the Regensburg speech that causes us to disdain Emperor Paleologus. If anything the emperor is shaded toward admirable by references to his intellectual acuity and even scriptural knowledge of a tradition not his own. His Holiness fails perfectly to distance himself from the speaker of so horrible a viewpoint. Why on earth would the Holy Father allow these sentences to even fall from his lips other than to express utter disdain for every word in such an utterance?

2. The Holy Father is utterly without excuse for many reasons

- This is a prepared text, and further one written in German, delivered in German, by a German in Germany.
- He is the single most authoritative religious figure in human history. NO other tradition is unified under a so rock-hard hierarchy concluding with a single soul at its pinnacle. To give you an idea of what it means to be the Pope this is his job description: "The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Holy See and the State of the Vatican City."

3. No tradition in history has an operative concept of infallibility adhering to a single priestly representative.

4. The RCC tradition preserved as it is through the most rigorous semantics in history (namely Canon Law) is a tradition of perfect care for the precise meaning of every word ever uttered. Not a sentence is uttered that is not tended by any one or more of nine congregations, three tribunals, 11 Pontifical Councils, 12 Offices, or four Pontifical commissions. No one, let alone the most authoritative voice in the religious world (AND a Head of State!) with resources of this magnitude at his disposal can excuse Himself marking an oversight, mistake, or misunderstanding.

Is the speech offensive?

The speech offends in a number of ways.

1. The Paleologus quote could not be more perfectly offensive to Muslim sensibilities.

- The Holy Father failed to sufficiently distance himself from this egregious quote.
- The speech of the Holy Father subjects Muslim traditions to historical critical analysis in ways not embraced by Islam. He notes that different Surat derive from different parts of the Prophet's (PBUH) personal biography. This is irrelevant to how the Koran is embraced by the vast majority of Muslims.

- How can such a mistake be made by a man who has an entire Congregation for Muslim relations at his disposal?
- This horrible descent into matters of a religion not his own DOES in fact paint Islam in a negative light. He concludes "with" Khoury and even with the insulting voice of Paleologus in noting that Muslim theology has a God (Allah) that is excessively transcendent and eludes the need for immanence by which reason might be made divine (the main thrust of his speech). He further quotes Muslims to describe a God "not bound even by his own Word."

Why so horrendous a section if it is not central to the thrust of the speech?

There are two reasons: Hubris, parochialism, and politicization of faith.

Hubris and unthinking miscalculation: One reason for this ill-advised foray into unwelcome territory in unwelcome ways is the notion that one can, with a brief aside presume and guide and lecture an entire world faith. This assumption is arrogant. No one puts up with these sorts of barbs from the sidelines. In all cases this style of presuming to lecture others is rejected and resented.

1. Parochial politicization. No one who reads the newspapers can be blind to the fact that Benedict XVI is committing the horrible sin of re-introducing the efforts of the Vatican to insert its influence over efforts toward European Union. Here again, Muslim offense is NOT based on misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The decision of the Holy Father to include such passages in his speech is clearly wrong-headed triumphalism dropped in the heart of Europe. This is nothing other than divisive.

What now?

1. Muslim leaders PLEASE call off demonstrations, and calm the family of believers. The speech of the Holy Father has served to create sympathy worldwide toward Muslims who suffer from prejudice, and from the misdeeds of Islamist militants. If Muslim protests become violent and disruptive, this sympathy toward Islam will dissipate and give fuel and comfort to the detractors of Islam.

2. The Holy Father and Enlightened Catholics should apologize and continue in all loving ways to heal this horrible misstep by the Holy Father Benedict XVI.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace. The opinions in this article are his own. Courtesy of United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries