Pope expresses ‘regret’ over insult to Muslims

Pope Benedict said on Sunday he was deeply sorry Muslims had been offended by his use of a medieval quotation on Islam and violence, but failed to quell the fury of some Islamic groups demanding a full apology.

The head of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, whose comments on Tuesday sparked worldwide Muslim anger because they were seen as portraying Islam as a religion tainted by violence, said the quotation did not represent his personal views.

“In Hamas we do not view the statement attributed to the Pope as an apology,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the militant group which controls the Palestinian government.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition force, initially said the Pope made a “sufficient apology.” But deputy leader Mohammed Habib said later: “It does not rise to the level of a clear apology and … we’re calling on the Pope to issue a clear apology that will decisively end any confusion.”

Before the Pope spoke and mollified some Muslims, there were attacks on churches in the West Bank and a protest in Iran. In Somalia, an Italian nun was killed in an attack one Islamist source said could be linked to the dispute.

“I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims,” the Pope told pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo summer residence.

“These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought,” he said at his weekly Angelus prayer.

“I hope this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect.”

The German-born Pope, elected in April last year, was interrupted by applause from the pilgrims at Castelgandolfo, in the hills outside Rome.

The 79-year-old pontiff spoke after a Vatican statement on Saturday attempted to clarify the meaning of the academic speech he made in Germany on Tuesday.

MUSLIM DISMAY

The heads of Muslim countries had expressed dismay at what they saw as an offensive comment and religious leaders had called it the start of a new Christian crusade against Islam.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi hoped the death of a nun working at a Mogadishu children’s hospital was “an isolated event.” The nun’s order said there was no evidence to suspect it was related to the Pope’s speech last Tuesday.

In the speech, the Pope, a former theology professor and enforcer of Vatican dogma, referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.

The emperor said everything the Prophet Mohammad brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and politicians in Italy rushed to Benedict’s defense, saying he had been misunderstood and had really being making an appeal for dialogue.

But angry Muslim leaders flung what they saw as allegations of violence back at the West, referring to the medieval crusades against Islam and to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have fanned the flames of Muslim resentment.

In Iran, about 500 theological school students protested in the holy city of Qom and hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said that if the Pope did not apologize, “Muslims’ outcry will continue until he fully regrets his remarks.”

One al Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura Council, threatened in an unauthenticated Internet statement to “break the cross and spill the wine” in revenge, referring to Christian symbols and sacraments.

Some Muslims welcomed the Pope’s statement he was sorry.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was “exactly the reassurance many Muslims were looking for.”

The head of Turkey’s religious affairs directorate welcomed the statement from the Vatican on Saturday. Ali Bardakoglu had previously called the Pope’s comments “extremely regrettable.”

Questions had been raised on whether a papal visit to Turkey in November could go ahead, but the government, while calling his remarks “ugly,” said there were no plans to call it off.

The Catholic Church has officially encouraged dialogue with Islam and other non-Christian faiths since the Second Vatican Council that ended in 1965.

Benedict has sought dialogue with Islam but he also stresses Europe’s Christian roots and, before elected, said he opposed mainly Muslim Turkey joining the European Union.

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