September 16, declaration of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State

Source: FSSPX News


The Muslim world – whose anger was fueled and used by the highly diverse fundamentalist groups – has been astir for several days after the words of Benedict XVI concerning Islam. Muslim officials demanded apologies. Christian institutions were assaulted, especially in Bassorah, Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories in Gaza and Nablus, where churches were the targets of attacks.

“Benedict XVI is deeply grieved that his words about Islam may have offended Muslims,” declared Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The Press Bureau published a long declaration – containing five points – from the new Secretary of State of the Holy See. The pope “is truly sorry” that some passages from his address were interpreted “in a way which does not correspond” to his intentions. The Italian cardinal reaffirmed that the pope has clearly committed himself in favor of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. He also specified that the sovereign pontiff would like Muslims to get the correct meaning of what he said.

The pope’s position on Islam, is unquestionably what is expressed in the conciliar document Nostra Ætate, declared the Secretary of State. This document states that the “Church also considers with esteem the Muslims, who adore the One, living, subsistent, merciful and almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, who spoke to men. They try to submit wholeheartedly to God’s decrees even if these latter remain hidden, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith willingly refers, submitted to God. Even though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they venerate him as a prophet; they honor his Virgin Mother, Mary, and sometimes even invoke her with piety.” Besides, Nostra Ætate adds: “they expect the day of judgment when God rewards every risen man. Consequently, they hold in esteem the moral life and worship God, especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

In his clarification, the cardinal thus quoted paragraph 3 of the Conciliar Declaration of October 28, 1965, on the Church and the non-Christian religions. May we take the liberty to simply recall here the judicious observation of the Catholic philosopher, Louis Jugnet, in his book  Note sur la possession de la vérité [Note on the Possession of Truth]: Judaism and Islam always insist on God’s unity – which is a truth - but they do so purposely, and in a unilateral way which excludes the Christian dogma of the Trinity.”

The pope’s option in favor of interreligious and intercultural dialogue is just as clear, continued the Italian cardinal. When he met the representatives of some Muslim communities in Cologne, on August 20, 2005, he said that such a dialogue between Christians and Muslims “can not be reduced to a passing choice,” adding: “We must use the lessons of the past to avoid making the same mistakes again. We want to seek the way to reconciliation and learn to live with respect for the other’s identity.” The Press Bureau of the Holy See placed at the disposal of Vatican specialists the text of this address in Cologne in which could also be read: “Together, Christians and Muslims, we must meet the numerous challenges of our time. (…) If together we manage to eradicate from our hearts the feeling of rancor, to oppose any form of intolerance and any manifestation of violence, then we will check together the rising tide of cruel fanaticism, which jeopardizes the life of many people and is an obstacle to the progress of peace in the world. (…) The task is arduous, but not impossible. The believer – and all of us as Christians or Muslims are believers – knows indeed that, in spite of his fragility, he may rely on the spiritual strength derived from prayer.”

Concerning the judgment of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which he quoted in his discourse at Regensburg, “It was and is absolutely not the pope’s intention to make it his own,” continued Cardinal Bertone. He only used it as an opportunity to expound certain considerations on the theme of the relation between religion and violence in general, in an academic context, and according to what results from a complete and careful reading of the text. And he concluded with a clear and radical refutation of religious motivation for violence, wherever it may come from, insisted the Secretary of State.

“It is worth recalling in this respect, what the same Benedict XVI recently affirmed in his Message on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the interreligious prayer meeting for peace, desired by his beloved predecessor John Paul II in Assisi in October 1986,” he continued. And he quoted: “Manifestations of violence cannot be attributed to religion as such, but to the cultural limitations in which religion is lived and develops in time. As a matter of fact, testimonies concerning the intimate relation between God and the ethics of love are part and parcel of all the great religious traditions.”

Consequently, stressed Cardinal Bertone, the pope is truly sorry that some passages of this address may have seem offensive for the feelings of Muslims believers and were interpreted in a way which does not at all correspond to his intentions. Seeing the fervent religiosity of Muslim believers, he had exhorted secularized Western civilization to avoid “contempt for God and this cynicism which considers that making a mockery of what is sacred is a right attached to liberty,” he insisted.

Recalling his respect and esteem for those who profess Islam, the pope wishes that these people may understand his words in their true sense, so that this difficult moment having been quickly overcome, the testimony to the “One, living and subsistent God, creator of heaven and earth, who spoke to men” may be strengthened, just as the collaboration to “defend and promote of one accord social justice, moral values, peace and liberty for all men,” concluded the close collaborator of the pope, quoting once again paragraph 3 of Nostra Ætate.