Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction to his recent remarks about Islam, which he said came from a text that didn’t reflect his personal opinion.
“These (words) were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought,” Benedict told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome.
The pope sparked the controversy when, in a speech Tuesday to university professors during a pilgrimage to his native Germany, he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s founder, as “evil and inhuman.”
“At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims,” the pope said Sunday.
Muslim leaders in the Mideast gave mixed reactions to the pontiff’s apology.
Mahmoud Ashour, the former deputy of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world’s most powerful institution, told Al-Arabiya TV immediately after the pope’s speech that, “It is not enough. He should apologize because he insulted the beliefs of Islam. He must apologize in a frank way and say he made a mistake.”
Mohammed al-Nujeimi, a professor at the Institute of Judicial and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, also criticized the pope’s statement.
“The pope does not want to apologize. He is evading apology and what he said today is a repetition of his previous statement,” he told Al-Arabiya TV.
Visit to Turkey still on
The Vatican released a statement Saturday saying the pope “sincerely regrets” that Muslims were offended, but stopped short of the apology demanded by many Muslim leaders.
But the leader of Egypt’s largest Islamic political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, said that “while anger over the Pope’s remarks is necessary, it shouldn’t last for long.”
“While he is the head of the Catholic Church in the world, many Europeans are not following (the church) so what he said won’t influence them. Our relations with Christians should remain good, civilized and cooperative,” Mohammed Mahdi Akef told The Associated Press.
Turkey’s foreign minister said Sunday the pope was still expected to visit in November in what would be his first trip to a Muslim nation. “From our point of view, there is no change,” Abdullah Gul told reporters before departing for a trip to the United States.
The Vatican’s secretary of state echoed Gul’s remarks.
“I hope that he will do” the trip, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA. “Until now, there are no reasons not to make it.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier urged world religious leaders to show “responsibility and restraint” to avoid what he called “extremes” in relations between faiths.
“We understand perfectly how sensitive this sphere is. I think it would be right if we call for responsibility and restraint from the leaders of all world faiths,” he said during a meeting with parliamentary leaders from Group of Eight nations in the Russian resort city of Sochi.
In his speech on Tuesday, Benedict quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam.
“The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,” the pope said. “He said, I quote, ’Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”’
The remarks sparked protests and some violence across parts of the Muslim world.
Churches burned in West Bank
Earlier Sunday in the West Bank, two churches were set on fire as anger over the pope’s comments grew throughout the Palestinian territories.
In the town of Tulkarem, a 170-year-old stone church was torched before dawn and its interior was destroyed, Christian officials said. In the village of Tubas, a small church was attacked with firebombs and partially burned, Christians said. Neither church is Catholic, the officials said.
Palestinian Muslims hurled firebombs and opened fire at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Saturday to protest the Pope’s comments, sparking concerns of a rift between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
Security was high at the summer palace before Benedict spoke Sunday. Police patted down many pilgrims, confiscating umbrellas with metal tips and bottles of liquids. Sharpshooters kept watch from a balcony and other officers, dressed like tourists, monitored the crowd with video cameras.
Police headquarters across Italy were also ordered to raise security at potential Catholic targets, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. However, at the Vatican, no additional security measures could be seen as tourists strolled across St. Peter’s Square.
Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said he believed tensions over Benedict’s remarks wouldn’t result in any further heightening of security concerns. He told Italian state radio that suspected terrorist cells under surveillance inside the country were considered to be focused on targets “outside of Italy.”