The Vatican and Islam

As the world focused on a pope’s election and the enthusiasm that immediately followed, another significant religious event escaped detection.

Vatican Assembly (R) 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Vatican Assembly (R) 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
As the world focused on a pope’s election and the enthusiasm that immediately followed, another significant religious event escaped detection.
Two weeks after Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis I, a prominent Italian commentator who converted from Islam to Catholicism in 2008 announced he would leave the Church.
Magdi Allam – an emigrant from Egypt who fights Islamism in Europe and who was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI – wrote in his March 25 column for Milan’s Il Giornale that he was leaving “because this Church is too weak with Islam.”
Allam is right.
Since Pope John Paul II’s tenure, the Catholic Church has refused to hold Muslim theologians and clergy accountable for the hatred and violence many of them preach. Instead, the Vatican promotes dialogue and mutual understanding at all costs – even at the cost of moral credibility.
John Paul II condemned what he called a “culture of death,” referring to the West’s tolerance for abortion and birth control. Yet when faced with a more virulent culture of death – a Palestinian Authority that promotes genocide by teaching children to become suicide bombers – the late pope fell silent. Given Pope Francis’ history and recent actions, Israelis and Palestinians can expect more tired, limp rhetoric about peace that hides Catholicism’s sentimental complacency.
When Pope Benedict attempted to challenge Islam in his famous address at Regensburg in 2006, the future pope Francis publicly distanced himself from Benedict’s remarks. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio said Benedict’s comments “don’t reflect my own opinions,” and “these statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last 20 years.”
As London’s Telegraph reported March 15, the Vatican responded by removing another Argentine archbishop from his post after he expressed a similar opinion.
Bergoglio reacted by boycotting a synod that Pope Benedict called.
“The only thing that didn’t happen to Bergoglio was being removed from his post,” Argentine columnist Horacio Verbitsky wrote in 2008.
On March 22, one day after his installation Mass, Francis urged the Catholic Church to “intensify” its dialogue with Islam and Muslim leaders to influence “all people in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy... but a brother or sister.”
On March 29, Good Friday in the Western Christian calendar, Francis’s sermon included remarks about Benedict’s trip to Lebanon last year: “We saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together...
and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters....”
ON APRIL 22, two archbishops from the Syrian Orthodox Church were abducted at gunpoint near Aleppo. The next day, a release from the Vatican’s press office stated that the pope was following the situation “with intense prayer for the health and release of the two kidnapped bishops.”
On April 30, President Shimon Peres told the pope the Middle East was “disintegrating” and faced “real existential danger.” A statement from Israel’s embassy to the Holy See added that the pope condemned anti-Semitism and suggested a “global meeting of hope” for religious leaders to oppose “violence and terror.”
The Vatican’s release, however, called for a “speedy resumption” of peace talks between Israel and the PA, and added that Peres and Francis had cordial discussions.
On May 11, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported the desecration of the nearly 2,000-year-old Mar Elias Monastery. The vandals also decapitated a statue of the saint. The Vatican issued no formal reaction.
On May 12, Francis canonized some 800 Catholics beheaded in 1480 by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II’s invasion force in Otranto, Italy, for refusing to convert.
“As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto,” Francis said, “let us ask God to sustain many Christians who... now suffer from violence and to give them the courage of fidelity and to answer evil with good.”
Such remarks, intended to encourage persecuted Christians, actually do the opposite. They tell innocent men, women and children that, while they might be honored in death, they will receive no meaningful support while they live.
The Vatican is in a unique position to provide meaningful material support.
It owns billions in stocks, bonds, securities and shares in corporations and holding companies. Surely, it can sell some of those assets to help beleaguered charities provide food and clothing for persecuted Christians.
In any event, sanctimonious rhetoric and diplomatic nuance will not appease fanatical barbarians of any persuasion.
Fanatical barbarians have only one goal: to kill anyone who blocks the imposition of their agenda.
Will exposing the barbarians for what they are, decrying genocide as such and demanding accountability work? Perhaps not. But unless Francis and his bishops – indeed, all Christian leaders – take a more forceful stance, even at the expense of their cherished ecumenical dialogue, their churches will continue their slide into moral irrelevance.
The author is a freelance writer from California who publishes on religion and morality.