Pope stops short of apology

Published September 17, 2006

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI "sincerely regrets" offending Muslims with his reference to an obscure medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman," the Vatican said Saturday.

But the statement stopped short of the apology demanded by Islamic leaders around the globe, and anger among Muslims remained intense. Palestinians attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the pope's remarks Tuesday in a speech to university professors in his native Germany.

In a broader talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence, Pope Benedict cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pope didn't endorse that description, but he didn't question it, and his words set off protests across the Muslim world.

The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that says the church "esteems" Muslims.

Pope Benedict "thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions," Bertone said in a statement.

He said earlier during his German trip, Pope Benedict warned "secularized Western culture" against holding contempt for any religion or believers.

Bertone said the pontiff sought in his university speech to condemn all religious motivation for violence, "from whatever side it may come." But the pope's words only seemed to fan rage.

Bertone's statement, released Saturday by the Vatican press office, failed to satisfy critics, although British Muslim leaders said it was a welcome step.

Mohammed Bishr, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member in Egypt, said the statement "was not an apology" but a "pretext that the pope was quoting somebody else as saying so and so."

"We need the pope to admit the big mistake he has committed and then agree on apologizing, because we will not accept others to apologize on his behalf," Bishr said.

There was no indication whether the pope would do so. His first public appearance since his return from Germany was set for today, when Pope Benedict planned to greet the faithful at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence in the Alban Hills near Rome.

Morocco recalled its ambassador to the Vatican on Saturday to protest the pope's remarks, and Afghanistan's Parliament and Foreign Ministry demanded the pope apologize.

Turkey cast some doubt on whether Pope Benedict could proceed with a planned visit in November in what would be the pontiff's first trip to a Muslim nation.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the pope apologize to the Muslim world, saying he had spoken "not like a man of religion but like a usual politician."

In West Bank attacks on four churches, Palestinians used guns, firebombs and lighter fluid, leaving church doors charred and walls scorched and pocked with bullet holes. Nobody was reported injured. Two Catholic churches, an Anglican one and a Greek Orthodox one, were hit. A Greek Orthodox church was also attacked in Gaza City.

A group calling itself Lions of Monotheism told the Associated Press by phone that the attacks were a protest of the pope's remarks on Islam.