Cablegate: Holy See: Pope's Regensburg Speech Ignites Firestorm, Leads

DE RUEHROV #0199/01 2611337
O 181337Z SEP 06




E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/18/2016

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CLASSIFIED BY: Christopher Sandrolini, Charge d'affaires a.i.,
EXEC, State.
REASON: 1.4 (d)

1. (C) Summary. Pope Benedict XVI's September 12 speech in
Regensburg caused an unwanted firestorm in the Islamic world
because of the pope's quoting, in passing, an insulting
reference made by a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. The Holy
See, and the pope himself, responded with statements of
clarification and regret in the ensuing days. While the pope
surely did not intend such an outcome, his own approach toward
Islam and toward interreligious dialogue is cooler than that of
his predecessor. Post expects further papal comments on the
matter on September 20, unless the controversy has died down by
then, and will report further in the coming days. End summary.

2. (C) During his recent visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI
gave a lecture to a gathering of academics on September 12 at
the University of Regensburg. The lecture, entitled "Faith,
Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections", fairly
long at roughly 3800 words, was of a learned sort, and focused
on the relationship of reason and faith in the Western world.
At the outset of his remarks, the pope cited a comment made by a
14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in order
to make the point that proselytizing by violence is unacceptable
to Christians, if not necessarily to Muslims. The actual
quotation included a stinging reference to the prophet Mohammed.
This reference, a very small part of the lecture, subsequently
produced an inflamed reaction in the Muslim world, several
contrite statements from Rome, and considerable commentary. In
order to shed some light on this unexpected controversy, this
cable takes a look at what the pope said, the reactions it
produced, and our interpretation of the situation.

What the Pope Said

3. (U) Following a bit of personal reminiscence about his own
university days, the pope embarked on the lecture with the
following passage:

"I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by
Professor Theodore Khoury (Munster) of part of the dialogue
carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara
-- by the erudite Byuzantiine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and
an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam,
and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who
set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople
between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments
are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned
Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of
faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals
especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily
returning repeatedly to the relationship of the three Laws: the
Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur'an. In this
lecture I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather
marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of
faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the
starting-point for my reflections on the issue.

"In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the
emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). the
emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no
compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early
period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But
naturally the emperor also know the instructions, devloped later
and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without
descending to details, such as the difference in treatment
accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he
turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central
question on the relationship between religion and violence in
general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed 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 emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons
why spreading the faith through violence is something
unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God
and the nature of the soul. God is not pleased by blood, and
not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is
born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to
faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly,
without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul,
one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any
other means of threatening a person with death...."

4. (U) The remainder of the lecture says very little about Islam

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(except for a passage suggesting that Muslims differ from
Christians in their willingness to accept God as absolutely
transcending reason) and focuses instead on ancient Greek
philosophy, Medieval Christian scholarship, and modern European
thinking about the relationship of faith and reason. It
concludes with an echo of the Manuel quotation to affirm that
reason and faith can and must go together.


5. (SBU) The lecture received substantial media coverage. By
September 14 criticism had been heard from various Muslim
authorities; this criticism intensified in the following days.
According to press reports, the president of Turkey's Religious
Affairs Directorate, Ali Bardakoglu, said he read the pope's
speech with amazement and horror, and he considered it to be
provocative, hostile, prejudicial, and a barrage of other
uncomplimentary terms. Aiman Mazyek, Secretary-General of the
Central Council of Muslims in Germany, and Dalil Boubakeur, head
of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, were also quick
to express concern. Senior Islamic officials in Kuwait, Egypt,
and Pakistan called for an apology. Other prominent Muslims,
such as Indonesian President Susilo and former Iranian President
Khatami, called for caution and hoped for clarification. Most
recently, al-Qaeda militants in Iraq have reportedly vowed war
on "worshippers of the cross" in reaction to the papal remarks.
In Somalia, gunmen shot an Italian nun, but it is not clear that
the attack was related to the papal statement.

6. (U) The Turkish government has so far resisted calls to
postpone or cancel the Pope's planned November visit to
Istanbul. The Moroccan government recalled its ambassador to
the Holy See for consultations.

7. (U) The Vatican responded later on September 14 with a
statement from Father Federico Lombardi, the Holy See's
spokesman. Lombardi said it was certainly not the pope's
intention to offend the sensibilities of Muslim believers, and
went on to emphasize that the pope wants to cultivate an
attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and
cultures, "obviously also toward Islam".

8. (SBU) On September 16, the newly-installed Secretary of
State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, issued an additional
statement. Bertone noted the reaction in Muslim quarters to the
pope's remarks, as well as the clarifications and explanations
already presented by the director of the Holy See press office
(Lombardi). Bertone said the pope:

(a) has a view of Islam which is unequivocally that expressed in
"Nostra Aetate" -- a seminal Vatican II document on interfaith
relations -- i.e., that the Church regards Muslims with esteem
(for their reverence for Jesus and Mary, their monotheism, their
obedience to God, etc.).

(b) strongly favors interreligious and intercultural dialogue
(c) did not mean to imply that he shares the views of Manuel II
which he quoted in his remarks
(d) "sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address
could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim
faithful, and (could have been) interpreted in a manner that in
no way corresponds to his intentions."

(e) hopes Muslims "will be helped" to understand the correct
meaning of his words in the interests of faith, peace, and

9. (SBU) Bertone gave an interview on September 17 in which he
said that papal nuncios had been asked to explain the pope's
remarks in their host countries. Bertone criticized the media
for its role in the crisis, and said the pope's words had been
"seriously manipulated". Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the
Holy See's influential Justice and Peace dicastery, wrote a
front-page article in L'Osservatore Romano on September 17, in
which he blamed the controversy on mass media distortions and
"orchestrated political and ideological exploitation". Martino
said, rather awkwardly, that if some believers from another
religion feel offended, they should know that the pope's desire
is to inspire sentiments of respect and Christian friendship for
all true adherents of other religions. Other prominent
Catholics around the world, such as British Cardinal
Murphy-O'Connor, also came to the pope's defense.

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The Pope's Regrets

10. (U) At his weekly Angelus address on Sunday, September 17,
Pope Benedict XVI himself spoke to the issue, albeit briefly.
Speaking in Castelgandolfo, and making his first public remarks
since returning from Germany, he said "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. These in fact were a quotation from
a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal
thought. Yesterday the Cardinal Secretary of State published a
statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning
of my words. I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to
clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality
was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with
great mutual respect."


11. (C) Charge d'affaires has appointments pending with Holy See
officials and others, and will report the results of those
conversations as soon as possible. We will also be sending in a
summary of relevant media coverage.

12. (C) For the moment, it is clear that Pope Benedict XVI has
created an unwanted controversy with potentially significant,
and harmful, implications. A common view is that the pope, a
studious and retiring academic by nature, simply didn't imagine
that his historical reference could cause such heartburn. While
defenders have blamed the media, or trouble-seeking Muslims,
others have noted that the firestorm could easily have been
foreseen, and forestalled, had the pope circulated his text in
advance to his deputies. (A powerful intellect long accustomed
to writing his own material, Benedict is not in the habit of
having his material vetted.)

13. (C) On the other hand, it taxes the imagination in today's
world to suppose that a reference -- by the pope! -- to the
Prophet Mohammed's innovations as "evil and inhuman" would pass
unnoticed. Nor is it likely that the particular quotation is
accidental. Benedict is known for his meticulous ways, and also
for his distinctly cooler (compared to John Paul II) approach
toward Islam and interreligious dialogue. The pope is preparing
for an important visit to Istanbul in November. His invocation
of Manuel, an emperor whose life was defined in combat with the
Ottomans who destroyed his empire a few decades later, must have
been deliberate. So, too, the decision to quote the precise
words of Manuel -- rather than a milder paraphrase -- is
significant in a pope known for his belief that one must neither
compromise with the truth, nor back down from defending the
faith. (As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was also known for his belief
that Turkey should not enter the European Union.) One of the
pope's hardline Italian supporters, journalist Sandro Magister,
argued in a September 18 column that Benedict has deliberately
chosen a path of "less diplomacy and more Gospel", with marked
willingness to say politically incorrect things.

14. (C) Our view is that Benedict very likely chose his words
carefully and was not averse to having them interpreted as a
sign of his skepticism about Islam; his earlier actions, such as
the transfer of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald last spring, made
this attitude clear enough. However, he surely did not intend
for them to lead to violence or a worsening of tensions between
Christians and Muslims. The quick succession of mollifying
remarks by senior Vatican officials, including the pope, is
unusual and suggests a chastened feeling at the top. However,
the actual "apology" is itself phrased rather carefully and may
fall short of putting out the fire. Upon return from a trip,
popes customarily reflect upon the trip at the next public
opportunity; in this case, that means the Wednesday audience on
September 20. We will watch developments closely.

15. (C) From our perspective, any USG comments on the matter
should carefully note the Holy See's own statements,
particularly the Pope's own comments confirming that his remarks
have been misunderstood and dissociating himself from Manuel's
words about the prophet. Cardinal Bertone's clarification of
the Holy See's continuing dedication to the principles of Nostra
Aetate (see para 8) and deep respect for Islam should also be

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