A range of people, from cardinals to the German chancellor, Anglela Merkel, have told the pope, or communicated to the press, their profound unhappiness at what he has done by lifting the excommunication of the ultra-traditionalist British bishop, Richard Williamson, who has questioned the extent of the Holocaust and denied the existence of gas chambers in Nazi death camps. The notorious interview on Swedish radio was only broadcast last month, but a Google search suggests that the bishop has long held these views.
In June 2006, during a visit to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, the Pope seemed to pass over the culpability of ordinary Germans in what happened then. Only four months later he made his supposedly major speech in Regensberg in which he seemed to tar the whole of Islam with the the violence of one long forgotten aggressive Muslim leader. Can he be allowed to make another big, alienating mistake? He lives in the 21st century, not the 11th century (the time of the last German pope, Victor II). These are sensitive times. We in the west live closer to the ideals of the founder of Christianity than we used to even two generations ago, although we still have a long way to go.
The “Islam” speech was not joined up thinking, at least not in the way Anglo-Saxon scholars are trained to write. One point does not feed logically to the next. It is difficult, reading the whole text, to discern exactly the principal theme. But judging from the early quote—which is taken from the 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel 11 Paleologus, on the violent nature of Islam and the pope’s concluding remarks on Islam—it was indeed meant to be aimed at the issue of Muslim/Christian relations.
If the pope had been more sensitive to the Islamic world, he would have quoted as an example of the dangers of violence being done in the name of God the activities of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who having first decreed a radical policy for the mass conversion of Muslims, killed many of them and drove the rest of the 700 year-old community out of Spain in 1492 and then turned on the Jews. Some 80,000 Jews were forced out, a great many perishing of hunger…