Who wrote the following?
Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which is completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God's self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.
Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity. (emphasis in original)
Before I identify the author of those remarks (in case you don't recognize who he is), here is another quote:
Past experience teaches us that, unfortunately, relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding. How many pages of history record battles and wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the Name of God, as if fighting and killing, the enemy could be pleasing to him. The recollection of these sad events should fill us with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.
The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative, and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization. In this regard, it is always right to recall what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said about relations with Muslims.
"The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God.... Although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves towards sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people" (Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 3).
For us, these words of the Second Vatican Council remain the Magna Carta of the dialogue with you, dear Muslim friends, and I am glad that you have spoken to us in the same spirit and have confirmed these intentions.
The first quote comes from Pope John Paul II's book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994). Of course, it also contains many positive remarks about Islam, but the quotation above is worth pondering for a moment because, if considered carefully, it may be just as — or more — offensive to Muslims, especially since John Paul II was not quoting a 600-year-old Byzantine emperor in order to provide a certain framework for a lecture that concentrated on critiquing, very strongly, philosophical currents in modern Western thought. The second quote, of course, is from Pope Benedict, taken from remarks he made to Muslim representatives when he was in Cologne last August for World Youth Day.
I mention these quotes, in part, because it is becoming more and more common for John Paul II to be presented as a man of peace and Benedict to be portrayed as a man who either disdains peace, or doesn't know how to go about making or keeping the peace. There are extreme and expected examples, including a recent animated cartoon on Alijazeera.net that depicts John Paul II releasing doves, only to watch them be shot from the sky by Benedict. An ABC "news" piece plays the "good pope vs. bad pope" theme ad nauseam:
Up until now it has been difficult to make comparisons between Benedict and his charismatic and immensely popular predecessor, John Paul II. But with the crises growing, Benedict is being harshly criticized for destroying the goodwill John Paul built during his 27 year papacy. ...
Pope Benedict, nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" because of his conservative views, staked out a much harder line right from the beginning.
And so forth and so on. More troubling are comments from Catholics, including former Vatican officials, who seem altogether eager to give the benefit of the doubt to angry Muslims and not to the Holy Father. In a piece published today by Spero News, journalist Gerald O'Connell reports:
Jesuit Father Tom Michel, who served on the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1981 to 1994 as the Vatican's top expert on Islam, writing in the Turkish political journal Yeni Asya this week said "the deeper question is, why did the pope say what he did in Regensburg?"
Father Michel, a member of the Indonesia Jesuit province, revealed that he was contacted in recent days by many Muslims, as well as Christian bishops, diplomats and journalists, who asked him: How could this have happened? Was there no one to urge the pope to change his text? How can it be prevented from happening again?
One of his "most useful tasks" while serving on the pontifical council, he said, "was to look over the late Pope John Paul II's speeches to Muslims to see if there was anything that might be considered offensive in them, and if there was something of that nature, to propose changes for the Pope."
He recalled that "Pope John Paul II was very conscientious lest he accidentally say something offensive or disrespectful to Muslims or to the followers of other religions."
On the small number of occasions that Father Michel detected problems in papal texts, "the Pope always corrected those questionable phrases before delivering the talk." As a result, "there was never a controversy like we are experiencing today."
While "every pope has his own style," John Paul II "was always ready to make good use of his Vatican staff," Father Michel said. "My feeling is that a mistake of the order we saw last week in Regensburg would not have been possible with that pope," he added.
"Had the Pope's talk been reviewed and controlled by any competent staff person, they would immediately have told the Pope that the citation of Manuel II Paleologus, which was in fact marginal to the Pope's main point, should not be included in the speech," the Jesuit scholar stated.
Nothing against experts, but this smacks of the sort of hyper-bureaucratic response that Benedict has shown he has little or no patience for. Besides, some who know the Holy Father fairly well have argued very convincingly that Benedict's remarks were not "mistakes" at all. Fr. Michel's remarks also beg the question: Should the Pope's main concern be to never give offense (a high order, considering that Christianity, in simply existing, is offensive to many people)? Apparently so:
"Most of the time when we offend others, we do not intend to do so," he explained. "Rather, we do so because of ignorance or lack of sensitivity. In such cases, an apology is required." For this reason, "it is also proper for the Pope to ask forgiveness for his offensive remarks, even though, as I believe, he did not intend to offend."
This strikes me as nonsensical, both in light of what Benedict said in his lecture and in how his comments have been distorted or taken out of context by some Muslims and more than a few Western journalists. It is also offensive (although I doubt an apology is forthcoming) in its attitude toward a man who is hardly unfamiliar with Islam, or inter-religious dialogue, or crafting public statements. I, for one, believe Benedict when he said — after stating, "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg ..." — that his lecture "in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect. This is the meaning of the discourse." John Paul II made significant strides in dialogue with the Muslim world; now Benedict, under the most difficult of circumstances, is attempting to continue that daunting dialogue by challenging all those involved to be lovers of truth and reason. If that dialogue fails, it won't be his fault.