How will Pope Benedict deal with Islam?

“The era of de-facto appeasement under pope John Paul II is over. The era of subtle discreet yet firm confrontation has begun.”

Joseph D’Hippolito writes in the Jerusalem Post.

How will Pope Benedict deal with Islam?

By Joseph D’Hippolito

Jerusalem Post, 9 May 2005

Pope Benedict XVI’s installation mass included two indications of a radical change in the Vatican’s strategy toward Islam and Islamist terrorism. In his greeting the new pope welcomed fellow Catholics other Christians and Jews – but not Muslims.

Later two selected people delivered intercessory prayers for oppressed Christians. One of the prayers was in Arabic.

What did these gestures mean? The era of de-facto appeasement under pope John Paul II is over. The era of subtle discreet yet firm confrontation has begun.

Muslims have noticed the shift and Benedict’s warmth toward Jews as commented in its April 24 report on the installation: “Some observers fear that Jewish lobbies might blackmail the new pope for his wartime membership – which he confirms was enforced – in Nazi Germany’s Hitler Youth.”

John Paul II cultivated a relationship with Islam not only as part of his ecumenical agenda. He viewed Islam as an ally against communism and secular materialism particularly abortion. In 1994 the Vatican forged a coalition with the radical regimes of Iran Libya and Sudan to oppose any proposals advocating abortion at a United Nations conference on world population.

Moreover the brutal Nazi occupation of Poland traumatized John Paul to the point where he deeply feared a similar clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam.

But John Paul’s successor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who led the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has other ideas as Amir Taheri wrote on April 16 in Arab News:

“Ratzinger believes that John Paul II’s strategy of alliance with Islam has put the Vatican not on the side of the Muslim peoples but on the side of despotic regimes that dominate the Muslim world. Ratzinger sees relations between Islam and Catholicism as one of competition over the truth.

“Ratzinger suggests an alternative strategy under which the Catholic Church would focus on the consolidation of its position in its traditional strongholds in Europe and the American continent. In that context Ratzinger has publicly opposed the admission of Turkey into the European Union.”

In dealing with Islam expect the new pope to exhibit the same tact he displayed in the Vatican’s response to Islamic terrorism. When the United States led the 2003 invasion of Iraq Ratzinger joined the rest of the Vatican in expressing opposition and advocating mediation through the United Nations.

“Does this war have a moral justification? In this situation certainly not he said in September 2002. It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world so we must still work with the UN. The fact that the United Nations is seeking the way to avoid war seems to me to demonstrate with enough evidence that the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save.”

Yet Ratzinger’s criticism was more muted than the opposition from other Vatican officials – including the pope – and his satisfaction with Saddam Hussein’s defeat obvious. Compare his reaction to the coalition’s victory with the reaction of Cardinal Angelo Sodano the Vatican’s secretary of state.

Ratzinger: “We are very happy it turned out this way. It was not possible to foresee what might happen; with chemical weapons anything was possible. But now we can begin again.” (Zenit Vatican-based news service April 10 2003)

Sodano: “The child has been born. It may be illegitimate but it’s here and it must be reared and educated. (Italy’s La Stampa Sept. 22 2004)

Moreover Ratzinger did not publicly embarrass himself like Cardinal Renato Martino president of the Pontifical Commission for Peace and Justice who expressed sympathy for the captured Saddam. Nor did Ratzinger spew public contempt for the West as did Cardinal Paul Poupard president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. On the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Poupard said that many of the so-called values of present Western civilization are anything but values that “stir contempt and hatred for decadent Western society in other civilizations.”

In fact two months after those attacks Ratzinger told Vatican Radio that when the criteria for just warfare are applied to the fight against terrorism the American response after September 11 could be compared to the defense of Poland against Hitler in World War II, wrote Catholic World News.

The future pope also demonstrated his discretion with equally muted public support for John Paul’s policy toward Islam: “It is important not to attribute simplistically what happened on September 11 to Islam. It would be a great error. It is true that the history of Islam also contains a tendency to violence but there are other aspects too: a real openness to the will of God. It is thus important to help the positive line which does exist in its history to prevail and to have sufficient strength to win out over the other tendency.”

Three weeks after John Paul’s death however come intercessions in Arabic for oppressed Christians.

In Benedict Islam will confront not a desperate ecumenist but a papal Bismarck adept at the German chancellor’s ultimate tactic: the velvet glove concealing the iron fist.

The author is a freelance writer from Fullerton California